CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES

Exclusive: Kenny Smith discusses why he believes the Rockets can make a championship run

Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Rockets haven't played a regular-season game since March 10th. The NBA season was suspended a day later so Rockets fans have had to wait for months for the opportunity to watch their team attempt to go on a championship run.

The question for the Rockets is simple though: Are they good enough to go on a run and contend with the other top teams in the Western Conference?

2x NBA Champion with the Rockets and one of the hosts of Inside the NBA on TNT, Kenny "The Jet" Smith joined SportsMap Radio on The Jake Asman Show and said he believes in the Rockets chances of contending for a title because of the superstar power Houston has with both James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

"This is what Mike D'Antoni envisioned. If he could pick a team, I think he would pick James Harden and Russell Westbrook to run it. The Rockets have the best players on a nightly basis at their positions. Nobody is going to have a better point guard and shooting guard than those two guys. They are always going to have the advantage."

A question that surrounds the Rockets entering the NBA's re-start is the impact that the long layoff and built-in practice time will have on the team's performance? Smith believes that the time off will help the Houston roster gel together after Rockets GM Daryl Morey made several bold moves at the trading deadline to go all-in on playing small-ball.

"I think the layoff also gives players an opportunity to reflect on what they need to do. This is the best team that they could ensemble to play that style."

When asked about his fondest memories of winning two championships with the Rockets, Smith said being part of the cities first-ever championship teams is something that he will never forget.

"Being the first Houston professional franchise to win a championship, I think that is what you remember the most. To be able to unite a city in a different way, to change the name to 'Clutch City' instead of 'Choke City' that to me is probably the most fun."


You can listen to The Jake Asman Show weekdays from 8 AM -10 AM Central on SportsMap Radio.

You can listen to the full interview with Kenny Smith below:

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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