Stepping up to the plate

Austin Rivers shines in Rockets' 129-112 victory over Kings

It's easy to forget about Austin Rivers. He comes off the bench, he only really plays about 20 minutes a game when the Rockets are at full health, and he plays in a crowded guard rotation next to James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon. So when he helps carry Houston to a blowout victory over the Sacramento Kings, it can take you by surprise. On Sunday night, Rivers tallied a career-high 41 points on a ridiculous 87.2% true shooting as the Rockets defeated the Kings 129-112.

"He was just aggressive from the beginning of the game," noted James Harden after the game. "I think what got him started was his defense. He played really good defense. And then offensively, he was just attack mode."

As the Rockets got off to a poor first quarter (trailed the Kings 36-23), Austin Rivers was the only constant that was keeping Houston in the game. By halftime, Rivers had 19 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 shooting from three-point range and the Rockets had regained the lead.

"He's been going in the morning to the gym shooting and working on his jumpshot," continued Harden. "So it kind of gave him that confidence. And tonight obviously with no Russ and no Eric, he needed to be a little bit more aggressive and he did that tonight."

The key point here is obviously that Rivers did this on a night where Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon were not in the rotation. Rivers didn't become good at scoring the basketball overnight, but the combination of Harden, Westbrook, and Gordon take away the need for Rivers to have nights like this. But when one or two of those guys go down with injury, Rivers has historically seen a huge spike in usage and playmaking responsibility. He's thrived in those environments.

"It's not easy, you know?" Rivers said after the game. "You play with two of the best guards in the NBA. Obviously, they have the ball in their hands a lot. So on this team you try to play your role. That's what I do. I try to play my role everyday."

One may see this as a balancing act that the Rockets need to juggle better, but Houston doesn't view it that way. They enjoy the idea of having multiple ball handlers, playmakers, and creators on the floor at all times. It's what makes them unique and gives them the ability to play this way. If one of the guards is struggling or unavailable, they know that they have other capable guys at the ready to come in and fill bigger roles. They don't need Austin Rivers to play like this, and that's perhaps what makes him the team's greatest luxury.

"Obviously it's good," Mike D'Antoni said of his bench's ability to create. "We're pretty deep. Once we get Russell and Eric back, we'll have 9 guys that will rotate in and out. The defense we want to play and the pace we want to play at, we'll need about 9. It's good to know that we can count on those guys."

And it's not just D'Antoni who feels this way. Rockets players certainly appreciate having Rivers' as a weapon in their back pocket. In fact, during the game, James Harden and Russell Westbrook were urging Rivers to keep attacking and take advantage of the opportunity. It's something Rivers says he values deeply.

"That even makes me more confident," Rivers said of the interaction. "Them pushing me really really helps me be more confident in myself. And when you have a guy like James Harden telling you to go, and Russell telling you to go, no one can stop you. That's coming from two of the best players in the NBA. I don't know what else you need."

It's funny - although Rivers has this ability to score 15 points a game if he were called upon to do it, the Rockets really only need him to essentially be a 3-and-D point guard. His one-on-one defense is something Rivers probably doesn't get enough credit for, but his teammates know what he brings to the table on that end of the floor.

"Well we do need him to score when his number's called and he gets opportunities to," said Harden. "Obviously Austin can score but he's a good defender. He just creates opportunity defensively for our team."

And that's what Rivers was for the Rockets on Sunday night. Of course he was scoring the ball well, but his defensive intensity helped Houston sharpen up as a team and led to several minutes with the Kings not scoring. That's the version of Rivers the Rockets will need come playoff time if everyone is healthy: a steady force in the background of Houston's guard rotation that doesn't mind being out of the spotlight. He doesn't need a night like this to prove that he can score the basketball - his teammates already know what he's capable of.

"I don't play for the record books," said Rivers. "I don't play for stats. I play to help my team win. And when you do that and things like that kind of come naturally, it's the best way to go about it. "

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These uniforms have to go. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Major League Baseball will consider going back to having players wear their team uniforms for the All-Star Game.

Club uniforms were used by the American League from 1933-2019 and by the National League from 1934-2019. When the game resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-related cancellation in 2020, MLB had started a uniform contract with Nike and Fanatics, and All-Stars were outfitted in specially designed league uniforms that drew criticism from traditionalists.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

This year's AL uniforms had a sandy base with red sleeves and lettering and the NL had a navy base with light blue sleeves and lettering.

“I’m aware of the sentiment on this issue,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday. "I think where my head is on it, it’s something we’re going to have a conversation about coming out of the All-Star Game. We've got a lot of uniform things going on. And, obviously, the conversations have to involve the players first and foremost but Nike, some of our partners. But I am aware of the sentiment, and I do know why people kind of like that tradition."

MLB and Nike were criticized for club uniforms this year and said in May that 2025 club outfits will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization. Players complained this year that white pants worn by some teams are see-through enough to show tucked-in jersey tops.

Regional sports networks

Manfred said a national steaming package of local television broadcasts is a future possibility.

“I could see a situation where we grow into a 30-club model. It might start on the digital side, where you have 14 or 15 clubs, and, you start with a digital product there as your first alternative,” he said.

“I was in Sun Valley last week and I did the whole speed-dating thing with everybody who’s ever streamed anything. When you talk to people in the streaming business, they’re not really interested in buying the state of Wisconsin and two counties in Michigan," Manfred added. "They want to be able to stream quite frankly, all over the U.S. and Canada but more broadly internationally. So I think those conversations are a product of owners saying, holy cow, the RSN business is really deteriorating. We know the future’s going to be streaming. What we’re hearing from the streamers is they want a more national product, and we need to be responsive to what people want to buy.”

MLB took over production of Arizona and San Diego local television broadcasts last year following the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports’ Bally networks and said MLB will be available as an option for teams looking for new deals. He said Padres game are approaching 40,000 subscribers, which he called a good figure.

“Having said that, from a revenue perspective it is not generating what the RSNs did," Manfred said. "The RSNs were a great business. Lots of people paid for programing they didn’t necessarily want. And it’s hard to replicate that kind of revenue absent that kind of bundling concept.”

Offense

While offense is near half-century lows, it has picked up from early in the season.

“The decline in offense is something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and we’ll continue to monitor to make a decision as to whether we think we need to do something. You do hear a lot of chatter about the dominance of pitching in the game. That’s absolutely true.”

Birmingham

After the success of the June 20 game between San Francisco and St. Louis at Rickwood Field, Manfred said MLB will return to the ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama, but the “exact form” had not been determined.

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