SHOWDOWN WITH THE CHAMPS

Even though it is early, tonight's Warriors matchup has greater meaning for Rockets

No Steph Curry tonight for the Warriors makes this a big chance at a win for the Rockets. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It's best not to operate in hyperbole when discussing a single game of any sport that isn't football. In football, the season is so condensed that any one loss could very well spell disaster for a team.  In baseball, or in this case basketball, teams have scores of contests so the impact of one game usually goes unnoticed.

The problem is when one bad game becomes two, and two becomes five, and five becomes seven. The problem is when chemistry development is hamstrung at the hands of injuries and suspensions. And the problem could quite possibly be distractions.

It is through this unique set of coinciding circumstances that the Rockets find themselves in a seemingly hyperbolic situation halfway through November. Tonight is Houston's first must-win game.

Houston hosts the 12-3 Golden State Warriors tonight, a super team of super teams and clear favorite to run away with yet another NBA championship. The Rockets, conversely, are 6-7 at the moment as they drag themselves out of a the 1-5 hole they face planted into to start the season.

Houston has since recomposed and put together a 5-2 run. Their defensive rating has flipped from 26th (115.6)  in their first six games to 10th (106.6) in their last seve, and in those same spans their offensive rating has swung from 24th (105.1) to 14th (109.3). All of that is to say that Houston isn't quite the dog that their record would necessarily suggest.

That swing, though, is exactly what makes tonight's matchup so pivotal. Critics will point to two of Houston's wins being against bottom feeder opponents, but supporters could counter with Houston's wins over playoff contenders in the Pacers and Nuggets. Beating the Warriors would end that argument for the moment.

Make no mistake, this isn't some pipe dream either. Houston is perfectly capable of winning this game. In fact, as of this writing, they're currently 1.5 point favorites to win. I wouldn't exactly bet the farm with those odds, but with Stephen Curry out and the Rockets as healthy as they've been all season, it's entirely possible that Houston could win tonight.

So there is is. Houston is in about as much of a must-win game as an NBA team with championship aspirations can be in November. Would a loss derail the season? No. A win, however, could all but erase their awful start. Wins against Golden State are the only metric by which the Rockets have measured their success for the past few seasons, and tonight we'll get our first opportunity to see just how they stack up this year.

 

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Houston gets the lopsided win

Valdez, Astros dominate the Angels in 10-0 rout in Anaheim

Framber Valdez was dominant against the Angels on Monday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a series win at home over the weekend, the Astros started their final regular-season road trip on Monday, squaring off against the Angels in Anaheim. They held the momentum firmly in their favor all night, dominating both sides of the game to start the series with a victory.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 0

Astros' Record: 89-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (11-5)

Losing Pitcher: Jaime Barria (2-4)

Siri leads off with a bang

With Jose Altuve being given the night off, Houston gave Jose Siri a shot at the leadoff spot, and he delivered to start the opener in Anaheim. He launched a missile to left field, 426 feet, to put the Astros in front 1-0 before the Angels could record an out. Later that same inning, they strung together three singles, the third being an RBI by Carlos Correa to double the lead.

Valdez goes seven shutout innings

That gave Framber Valdez a lead to work with as he stepped on the rubber in the bottom of the inning, and he didn't give it up as he would post a dominant start. He started with a 1-2-3 first, worked around a couple of singles in the second, then used a double play to face the minimum in the third.

He retired Los Angeles in order again in the fourth, stranded a two-out single in the fifth and a single and a walk in the sixth. He had his worst inning of the night in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single then loading the bases on back-to-back two-out walks. He'd escape the jam, though, keeping the shutout alive and finalizing his impressive line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 98 P.

Astros take the opener in lopsided fashion

Houston tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, getting a one-out double by Correa to set up an RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez, pushing the lead to 3-0. Things escalated from there, as another single put two on base for Martin Maldonado, who blew the game open with a three-run homer to make it a six-run lead.

Brooks Raley took over for Valdez in the bottom of the inning, and with a 1-2-3 inning, made it his eighth appearance in a row without allowing a run. The Astros didn't let up in the top of the ninth, getting two hits and a walk to load the bases before a grand slam by Gonzalez made it 10-0 and gave him 5 RBI in a two-inning span. Seth Martinez, called up by the Astros earlier in the day, made his big-league debut in the bottom of the ninth and closed out the lopsided win to put Houston's magic number at 6.

Up Next: The second of this four-game set will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Tuesday. Jose Urquidy (7-3, 3.38 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, going opposite Packy Naughton (0-2, 4.32 ERA) for the Angels.

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