BIG NIGHT

5 Things To See At Houston Rockets Season Opener

HOUSTON — Some of the biggest names in basketball are at a crossroads and what happens next could define their legacy in the game. I'm eager to see what's in store across the league, nowhere more than in Houston.

Thursday night, the Houston Rockets welcome in 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to the Toyota Center for a gripping matchup. It has all the makings of a high profile game, as THREE former MVPs hit the court for the first time in league history.


While the Bucks continue to be one of the strongest teams in the East — not to mention, one of the best defensive teams in the league, their biggest challenge will be creating a game plan to slow down James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Here's what I'd love to see from Houston's own former MVPs – Brodie, the Beard – and the rest of the Rockets:

Playing Without The Ball

There's no doubt James Harden is the best offensive player in league history. I don't know how anybody could successfully argue otherwise. With that said, we did trade for Westbrook and his game isn't particularly effective unless he runs the ball. Last season, right after Game 2 or 3 against the Golden State Warriors, Harden seemed disinterested when Chris Paul directed the offense. He didn't spot up, or anything. To many… it looked like he was just standing there. With respect to The Beard, I completely understand how frustrating it felt to carry the entire offensive load — but hopefully, the addition of Westbrook alleviates some of that responsibility. After watching the preseason, it (honestly) doesn't seem like Harden's style has changed.


James Harden is playing like Russell Westbrook isn't there – Jalen Rose | Jalen & Jacoby www.youtube.com


MDA needs to emphasize more plays to get Harden off screens and cuts to fully take advantage of his shooting and Westbrook's playmaking on the flip side. If Harden can hit one-legged step-back three-pointers with consistency, imagine what he can do with simplified open shots.


Harden Tries 1-Legged Step-back 3 IN GAME & Russ Loves It www.youtube.com



Transition Offense

The preseason painted MDA's plans on managing two stars with historically high usage. Mike D'Antoni intends on staggering their minutes, taking Harden out first… even though placing a well-rested Westbrook to lead the second unit with EG (aka Splash Gordon) sounds more appealing. The Rockets were in the middle of the road in terms of transition offense. A new wrinkle that could put the team over the top this year would (very much) be the development of not playing so many possessions in the half court set.

With Westbrook's addition, Houston should run the floor more frequently rather than letting the opponent set up on defense. I think it would do James some good to finally get easy looks here and there — especially, after a whole season of being among the least assisted starters. We would under utilize Westbrook, if we don't set him up for success. That being, allowing him to get to the basket and score or dish out the ball for an open look. Tyson Chandler and Clint Capela should be able to gobble up plenty of rebounds to get the break started. Plus, we should showcase Chandler's underrated talent of making some impressive outlet passes to open wings. In the end, we need more fast break points with an increasingly faster and younger league.

Limit Giannis

Giannis lit Houston up for 27 and 30 last year. He was his typical 'freak' self, as they call it. It will be interesting to see how the Rockets plan on limiting his impact. Essentially, forming* a wall around the paint and forcing him to shoot a jumper.

Though Giannis has been working with Kyle Korver this offseason, a broken jumper like his takes a months of Sundays to fix. PJ will have his hands filled regardless.




Some Fire A** Kicks

I expect to see some crazy sneaker game from the most stylish team in the league. No team comes close to the heat coming off the feet of Houston's team. The sneaker king, PJ Tucker, never disappoints. I'm very curious to see what brand Tuck will be rocking since he is now a sneaker 'free agent', and has recently been seen rocking Pumas. I can see him to adding a little drama to this decision on opening night. (Maybe he drops his own signature model?)

PJ Tucker Returns For Sneaker Shopping With Complex youtu.be


Brodie and the Beard may drop some type of new, sizzling colorways of their signature sneaker to get things KICKed off for the night. This is the prime-time game and all eyes are on them. Why not market some shoes?

P.S. If you guys are reading this I'm a size 8W.

Win for Houston

What better way to start off the season than a win against the leagues reigning MVP? The Bucks have carried the title as one of the best defensive teams in the league for two consecutive years, and you can bet your money that they're thirsty to compete with hopes to secure Giannis for years to come in Milwaukee.

Everyone is interested to see how Harden and his new-ish running mate will pair in the backcourt. I know they are both eager to show they can successfully coexist with another star after both of them failing to do so in previous seasons. Also, Morey needs a win after his tweet that shook the NBA and the rest of the world. I know he's China get on Tilman's good side — again. Haha.

Bonus:

Some type of development of Post Offense from Clint Capela.

Capela, even though an uptick in his counting stats, took a step back last year. A simple eye test could have told you that. It would be very nice to see him take advantage of the Bucks weak center lineup. A simple drop step should do the trick. Maybe even a hook shot? The Rockets need evidence that Capela can continue being one of their cornerstone players.

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Game One Is Pivotal For Both Teams

ALWC Game 1 Preview: Astros vs. Twins

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It might not have been pretty, and may not have met pre-season expectations, especially with all the injuries and headwinds along the way. Yet, the Astros' regular-season was enough to get them into the playoffs, and as we are likely to find out with this aptly-named Wild Card Round, all it takes is a ticket to the dance.

A losing record at the end of the first 60 is now a thing of the past. Everyone starts 0-0, needing to take two of three against their opponent to move forward into the Divisional Series. Here's a quick breakdown and some facts about Houston's first game against the Minnesota Twins:

Game Facts

When: Tuesday, 1:00 PM Central

Where: Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: ABC

Streaming: ESPN App

Pitching Matchup: Zack Greinke vs. Kenta Maeda

Series: Tied 0-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching Matchup
Game 1 Tue 9/29, 1:00 PM Target Field, Minneapolis Greinke vs. Maeda
Game 2 Wed 9/30, 12:00 PM Target Field, Minneapolis TBD vs. Berrios+
Game 3* Thu 10/1, TBD Target Field, Minneapolis TBD vs. Pineda+

* If necessary.
+ Projected starters.

Game Storylines

Did Houston pack their postseason bats?

Over the last three years, the Astros have started the playoffs with wins in their first game, and it may be in part due to one key component: scoring first via home runs. In 2017, it was an Alex Bregman solo homer off of Chris Sale in the first inning to start the scoring against the Red Sox. In 2018, it was Bregman again, this time a solo shot in the fourth off of Corey Kluber of the Indians. In 2019, it was Jose Altuve with a two-run bomb against Tyler Glasnow as they'd go on to take game one against the Rays.

Can they make it four straight years? If so, they'll have to do it against another formidable pitcher in Kenta Maeda, who allowed just nine home runs in his eleven regular-season starts, only two of which were at Target Field. Also, those three games mentioned earlier were at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros had the support of their home crowd, along with the comfort of their own stadium. This year, they'll start on the road, and in the now-normal audience of cardboard cutouts. Having said that, if they can get their signature score-starting home run in the top of the first by one of their key bats, that could very well set the momentum in their favor to upset the Twins.

Which Greinke will we see?

On September 3rd, Zack Greinke went six innings while allowing three runs to the Rangers, still coming away with a win to improve him to 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA. That was his eighth start of the season, two of which he went six or more innings without allowing a single run, including an eight-inning gem at home against the Rockies.

In his final four starts after that, Greinke went 0-3 with a 6.53 ERA over that span, allowing four, five, three, and three earned runs, respectively, and unable to go more than six innings in any of them. That finished his year at 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA, not exactly riding a high into the postseason. So, can he hit the reset button and deal as he did in the early parts of the season? Or, will the Twins, who own the sixth-most homers as a team in 2020, find a wrinkle against him early that they can exploit? The answer to that, along with what run support his offense provides him, will be one of the game's deciding factors.

I don't need to tell anyone the obvious here; in a best-of-three series, taking the first game will be pivotal for both sides. Winning the first game and only needing one more is a tremendously more advantageous position to be in, instead of needing to win two straight to advance. It sets up for an entertaining series and set of matchups across the league. Get your popcorn ready.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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