The Rockets Report

Another week, another 4 wins as Rockets up win streak to 13

Another week, another 4 wins as Rockets up win streak to 13
Chris Paul and James Harden are wrecking shop on the NBA right now. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Sometimes it’s great to be wrong. An example of that is when you end your last article trying to be as objective as possible, predict the Rockets’ winning streak will end, and they mow through a four-game work week undefeated. Those are the moments when I’m happy to admit I was mistaken.

Led by the consensus leading MVP candidate James Harden, the Rockets have now ripped off 13 straight wins while maintaining the best record in the league. If they’re able to survive Monday’s test against the Jazz, expect the streak to continue through Christmas.

Game 25: Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans (W, 130-123)

With Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis out with an injury, it looked as though the Rockets would cruise to their 10th straight victory. That was nowhere near the case, as DeMarcus Cousins and company fired out of the gate and matched the Rockets point for point. Cousins set the tone early with a stop and pop 3-pointer early in the first.

“None of this makes any sense,” My friend explained.

I agreed.

E’Twaun Moore scored 36, Jrue Holiday added 37, and Rajon Rondo added a vintage triple-double in what seemed to be a streak-ending Pelicans victory. Harden would have none of that, scoring 12 straight late in the fourth quarter to take the lead and seal the victory. Clint Capela scored a career high 28 points on 13 of 14 shooting. Harden would finish one assist shy of his career high with 17, to go along with 26 points and 6 steals. Eric Gordon was 5-6 from three point range, adding 27 points off the bench.

Game 26: Rockets vs Charlotte Hornets (W, 108-96)

Dwight Howard returned to the Toyota Center for the first time this season and hung 26 points and 18 rebounds on the Rockets, but a 25-0 run by Houston in the first half proved to be too much for the Hornets to recover from. In a scary moment early on, Luc Richard Mbah Moute crashed hard to the ground and left in the first half with a dislocated shoulder. Chris Paul led the Rockets with 31 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds. Clint Capela added 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. Harden finished with 21 points.

Game 27: Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs (W, 124-109)

The then 19-10 Spurs headed to Houston to take on the Rockets for the first time this season since embarrassing Harden and company in the second round of last season’s playoffs. As part of an ESPN nationally televised double-header highlighted by the return from injury of Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, the matchup looked to be one of the toughest tests the Rockets had faced all season. This, however, was not the case at all.

The Spurs hung on throughout most of the first quarter with their trademark tenacity on defense, but it was Paul who would bust the game open in the second and never look back. The Rockets lead by 17 at the half on the way to a blowout victory that was never in jeopardy from then on. Paul would finish 5-9 from 3-point range with 28 points, 8 assists and 7 steals. Harden had 28 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds.

Game 28: Rockets vs Milwaukee Bucks (W, 115-111)

After playing four games in five days the Rockets tipped off against the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks as the second part of back-to-back games. The Rockets looked noticeably gassed, and with Capela sitting due to a heel bruise, Antetokounmpo was free to do his damage in the paint with little resistance.

Yet, even as tired and injury-riddled as they were, the Rockets would prove once again to be a hard out. The Rockets would play small for most of the game, with Ryan Anderson playing center and P.J. Tucker starting at power forward. In spite of 16 lead changes, the Rockets would finally pull away just enough early in the fourth to secure a grinder of a game. Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 28 points, 5 assists, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. Harden paced the Rockets with 31 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. Paul added 25 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Six of the eight Rockets that checked into the game scored in double figures. Anderson was shut out for the first time this season.

Takeaways:

  • Saturday's win against the Bucks stretched their winning streak to 13 games, which is tied for third best in Rockets history. Their longest streak was in 2007-2008 when they went on an improbable 22-game winning streak, which is the fourth best in NBA history.

  • According to Basketball-Reference.com’s MVP tracker, James Harden is currently number one with a 66.2% probability of winning. The Rockets are 3-0 versus the next 4 candidate’s teams (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kevin Durant). Clint Capela currently ranks 7th on the list.

  • Speaking of streaks and Harden, The beard is currently has a streak of his own going. In the past 29 games dating back to last season, Harden has failed to score less than 20 points in a game. That streak is tied with Moses Malone for the best in Rockets history.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets are looking at a very soft part of their schedule with home games against the Jazz and Lakers, followed by a friday away game against the Clippers. These are all sub .500 teams, sporting a combined record of 35-50. The Utah Jazz had been showing signs of life until Rudy Gobert went down yet again, this time with a PCL injury. The last time the Jazz played in the Toyota Center, Harden scored or assisted on 91 total points, which is the third highest such output in NBA history. In the first matchup against the Lakers, the Rockets held Lonzo Ball to 2 points, 1 assist, and 2 rebounds, winning by 23. The Clippers are 11-17, going 3-6 in their last 9 contests. Friday will be their first matchup this season with the Rockets.

Until the Gobert injury, I assumed that the toughest test would be this Monday against the Jazz. As I stated above, it looks very likely that they’ll carry their winning streak into their Christmas day matchup against the Thunder.

 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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