THE ROCKETS REPORT

Big win over Warriors, Harden's return highlight critical 2-1 week for Rockets

James Harden returned to the lineup. Rockets.com

The Rockets regained superstar James Harden this past week, but lost swingmen Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green Monday night for the remainder of the week. The effects of the latter seemingly went unnoticed, as Houston shook off an ugly Monday loss and followed with a double-digit blow out against Minnesota, culminating their week with a statement win against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The win gained ground against the No. 1 team in the conference, but the Rockets remain in second place by 3.5 games.

Game 42: Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (L, 102-113)

Monday night kicked off the second half of the NBA season with a road game against the L.A. Clippers. Houston was without Chris Paul in their first meeting, dropping the first game at Houston. As a result, this was not only the first time Paul faced his old team, it was also the first time playing in front of Clippers fans in the Staples Center. As the P.A. announcer called his name in the starting lineup, Paul was met by his old fans with positive cheers and posters with well-wishes. As far as the game went, it was incredibly competitive throughout the first half. The Clippers would take their 59-56 lead from halftime and ride it all the way to the finish line, behind a 31 point performance from former Rocket Lou Williams and 29 points from Blake Griffin. Things would get heated late in the fourth however, and with tempers flaring, both Griffin and the Rockets own Trevor Ariza would be ejected before regulation. Reports surfaced following the game that the situation reached a point where Ariza and fellow Rocket swingman Gerald Green breached the Clippers locker room to confront Clippers point guard Austin Rivers and Griffin. Security escorted the players from the scene and both Rockets players were later suspended two games each.

Game 43: Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (W, 116-98)

The Rockets returned home Thursday to take on the fourth best team in the Western Conference. In addition to Harden’s first game back from injury, this was the first matchup between Houston and the Timberwolves since Minnesota added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson in the offseason. The first quarter was sloppy and tightly contested for the first 10 minutes, but a nine-point burst from Eric Gordon would conclude a 26-17 first quarter. The Timberwolves would never lead after the first and the Rockets would cruise to a huge victory, despite missing two key players in Ariza and Green. Harden’s performance was sloppy, going 3-15 from the field with 10 points. Gordon led Houston with 30 points total, including a halftime half-court, buzzer beater.

Game 44: Rockets vs Golden State Warriors (W, 116-108)

Saturday’s tilt was an incredibly important test against the the best team in the league. A win in this third matchup between the two teams would take the regular season series for either team, and a win by Houston in particular would legitimize their claims as a serious championship contender. Unlike the second matchup, both teams were at relatively full strength and the primetime matchup once again proved to be a great game. The Warriors took the court with a league-leading 13-game road winning streak, but Houston set the tone early as Harden shook off Thursday night’s rust and buried three straight three-pointers early in the first. After a 40-28 point first quarter by the Rockets, Golden State would rally to bring the game back to within 7 by halftime. As expected the matchup would come down to the final minute, but with 1:10 to go in the fourth, Harden would deliver a vicious step-back three point dagger to seal the win for the Rockets. Harden would finish with 22 points and 8 assists, while Paul would lead the way with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists.

Takeaways:

Tough Trio: A finally healthy Rockets squad took down the champs on Saturday, behind great performances from Harden, Clint Capela, and Paul. The win extended their streak to 17-0 when all three are on the court.

Looking Ahead:

Houston’s past few weeks have been rougher than most, and this week looks to be no different. The Rockets will face an early challenge Monday night versus the Miami Heat (27-19), followed by an easy Wednesday matchup against the woeful Dallas Mavericks (15-31), a Friday tilt against a Pelicans team (24-21) that gave the Rockets a headache earlier in the season, and finishing with a Sunday contest against a 17-29 Suns team. Miami looks to be the toughest test this week, while a healthy Pelicans team could pose problems like they did in their first meeting. The only way I envision Dallas or Phoenix beating the Rockets is if they get caught looking ahead in some sort of trap game scenario. Ultimately I don’t see a completely healthy Rockets squad that returns Ariza and Green to the lineup losing more than one game this week. I predict a 3-1 week at worst if they stumble Monday, with the possibility of an undefeated week 15.



 

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Houston's offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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