Wednesday night the Rockets took the court in Orlando with most of the league wondering exactly what a Houston squad would look like with James Harden out of the lineup for the first time this season. Harden is expected to miss an extended period of time, and their matchup with the Magic would provide them an opportunity to adjust to their new rotation before Thursday’s game against a healthy Golden State Warriors team.
A combination of strong defense by the Rockets and poor shooting from the Orlando at the outset contributed to a 25-12 first quarter. Chris Paul was now the undisputed face of the team and he went to work early, setting up open threes and dishing to center Clint Capela for easy inside points.
The real adjustment would take place at the first set of substitutions. Recently acquired shooting guard Gerald Green looked to fill in the sixth man role typically occupied by Eric Gordon, who was thrust into the starting rotation in place of Harden. He delivered, playing stingy defense and shooting 4-4 from three. Briante Weber also made a rare first half appearance, though it remains to be seen whether Weber’s usage has more to do with minutes preservation in lieu of the upcoming Warriors matchup, or this is a legitimate minutes share while Harden is out.
Late defensive switches and sloppy play from the bench allowed the Magic to cut the lead down to single digits late in the second quarter, but a late run by the starters ballooned the lead back to 55-41 by half time.
The Paul to Capela strategy would take over early in the third, and the lead would extend to more than 20 points, essentially putting the game away for good. The mop-up crew was brought in with a little under 5 minutes remaining and the Rockets would close out the game with a 116-98 victory. Green would lead the team with 27 points and 6 rebounds, followed by Capela who shot 8-12 for 21 points and 8 rebounds. Paul would add with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 13 assists. Six Rockets players finished with double digit scoring performances.
In regards to the new-look Rockets, a few decisions stood out. Weber--typically a garbage time player--ended with 16 minutes. Tarik Black finished with 8 minutes as well. Again, it remains to be seen if this is merely a tactic employed to preserve the regular rotation for Thursday’s matchup with the Warriors or if this is how the minutes will be spread with Harden injured.
Green’s surprisingly effortless transition into a new offense has been a welcome surprise. In four games with the Rockets, he’s averaging 13.8 points per game off the bench, allowing Gordon to operate with the starters without sacrificing scoring off the bench. With small forward Luc Mbah a Moute nearing a return from a shoulder injury, Houston looks poised to withstand the loss of Harden at least for the short term.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.