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 winning streak moves to six

Eighth-inning rally powers Astros to series sweep over Rangers

Yuli Gurriel brought in the go-ahead run late in Sunday's game. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Winners in the first three games of this series and their last five games overall, the Astros continued their climb towards the A's for first place in the AL West. They completed the four-game sweep, ending a successful homestand on a positive note before heading on the road.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 2

Astros' Record: 24-17, tied for first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brooks Raley (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Joely Rodriguez (1-2)

Astros strike first, McCullers Jr. goes six scoreless

After the Rangers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Houston grabbed an early lead off the bat of Alex Bregman. He provided the third single of the inning, a one-out RBI to put the Astros in front 1-0, a score which would hold steady for a while. Another run didn't come across until the bottom of the fifth when Houston would load the bases with one out when Carlos Correa would get an RBI groundball to double the lead to 2-0.

Lance McCullers Jr. did well with the small lead, backing up his recent eight-inning gem with a quality start against Texas. He allowed a couple of hits each in the third and fourth but would erase the runners with no damage allowed. The Rangers threatened in the top of the sixth with a leadoff double before the runner moved to third on a wild pitch, putting him in a great position with no outs. McCullers Jr. would come away unscathed, finishing the inning and his day by retiring the next three batters. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 95 P.

Rangers tie it against Scrubb

First out of Houston's bullpen was Andre Scrubb, and he would not fare as well as the Astros starter. A leadoff single turned into a two-run game-tying homer, making it 2-2 before Scrubb would sit down the next three in order. Still tied in the top of the eighth, Brooks Raley had a terrific inning, striking out the three batters he faced.

Houston rallies ahead in the eighth for the four-game sweep

The top of Houston's order mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out to try and regain the lead. Yuli Gurriel would come through with the go-ahead at-bat, getting a sac fly to put the Astros back in front 3-2. A two-out walk loaded the bases again, setting up Chas McCormick to provide two insurance runs on a two-RBI single.

Myles Straw added one more on an RBI single, making it a four-run game at 6-2 heading to the ninth. Enoli Paredes made his long-awaited return from the IL, appearing for the first time since April 8th to try and close things out in the ninth. He tossed a scoreless inning, finishing off the four-game sweep, extending Houston's winning streak to six games, and keeping them in step with Oakland for the AL West lead.

Up Next: After a day off on Monday, the Astros will begin a six-game road trip on Tuesday. They'll kick off a three-game set in Oakland against the A's at 8:40 PM, an exciting matchup to determine who will head into the weekend atop the division. While Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) is the expected starter for Houston, Oakland has not yet determined their rotation for the series.

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