STAYING ALIVE

5 keys for the Rockets to bounce back in Game 4

James Harden needs to play like a superstar. Kevin C. Cox

Houston finds itself once again in a must win situation after being completely dismantled Sunday night at Golden State. The Rockets will need to correct several issues before tonight's game if they are to stand any chance against the Warriors. If they play the same way as Game 3, expect the same result. Here are five things that need to happen to pull this series even:

1) Control the ball

In both losses the Rockets have more than doubled the Warriors in turnovers. In their win, the teams were practically even. Turnovers lead to easy fast break points, and the Warriors, not surprisingly, crushed Houston in that category 23-10 as a result. The Rockets look nervous, and seem like they're trying to play outside of the game the have used to win 65 times during the season. You can't score without the ball, and the Rockets need to take much better care of it or they'll be run out of the building again.

2) Dial in on layups

In both losses the Rockets missed wide open layups time and time again. The only way Houston's offense works is if their isolation plays free up someone capable of making the open layup. Otherwise you end up with an easy fast break for the Warriors, who converted theirs as never more clearly indicated by the scoreboard.

3) Hurry up

The Rockets are fully capable of running the court and upping the pace. That's what they did in Game 2, and it yielded great results. Games 1 and 3 were much slower on the offensive end, leading to way too many last second low percentage shots as the shot clock expired. Pick up the pace, continue to isolate Stephen Curry, and we should see a version of the Rockets we've been used to seeing all season.

4) Step up

Chris Paul and James Harden need help and their teammates have been woefully absent in answering the call. It's clear that Luc Mbah A Moute is still affected by his shoulder injury, as his offense has been nonexistent. That leaves Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green, and Eric Gordon. With the exception of Game 2, their collective production has been uninspiring. Someone needs to step up if the Rockets are going to have a chance because not only does it stretch the defense for easier layups, it also opens up the potential for lob passes to Capela as a result. The most likely candidate to step up would be Gordon, and he will need to to give the Rockets a shot.

5) Be the MVP

James Harden is playing good basketball, don't get me wrong. But in both Golden State wins, we watched as one of their stars simply willed the team to victory. This is Harden's moment. He has a perceived history of shrinking in the playoffs, but now he has the opportunity with the best team ever assembled around him to erase all of his past playoff woes and show just why he deserves to be the MVP this season. Harden is capable of that extra gear, and we've seen it here and there in these playoffs. The Rockets will need Harden to maintain that MVP level throughout the series in order to remain competitive.

Things don't look great for Houston at the moment, but they're not as bleak as you would think. It is absolutely imperative that the Rockets even up the series in order to regain home court advantage, and we saw in Game 2 what the blueprint was. Game 3 they lost it. Game 4 they'll need to find it again or else the offseason will be here much quicker than Houston fans would prefer.

 

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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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