Mike D'Antoni and Chris Paul are looking ahead to a big week. Rockets.com
After a week of statement games The Rockets entered this past week on a four game winning streak and a fully healthy squad for the first time of the new year. Houston would add two more wins to extend the streak early in the week before ultimately falling to the Pelicans Friday night. Sunday would be a bounce back game and the Rockets would finish 3-1 for the week.
Houston is now 35-13, and remain second in the Western Conference. Golden State leads the conference by four games.
Game 45: Rockets vs. Miami Heat (W, 99-90)
Fresh off of a pivotal win Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, the Rockets hosted the fourth best team in the eastern conference, the Miami Heat. The Heat pounded the ball inside early and often, and pulled ahead of the Rockets early. The lead stretched as far as 14 points in Miami’s favor partly due to yet another cold shooting night for Eric Gordon from beyond the arc (0-7 for the night, as well as 0-9 Saturday versus the Warriors). The Rockets continued to fire from deep to counter the Heat’s inside dominance (finishing 56-34 in the paint against the Rockets), and it would not be until midway through the third quarter that the lead would swing back in Houston’s favor. It would remain a tight game as the lead switched back and forth, and with a slim three-point lead and 39 seconds remaining, Chris Paul pulled up and nailed a two-point dagger to seal the win for the Rockets. Paul would finish with 16 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds. James Harden led the team with 28 points and 5 assists, and 2 blocks.
Game 46: Rockets at Dallas Mavericks (W, 104-97)
To the surprise of literally no one, the Rockets--at full strength--took the victory at American Airlines center. Houston relied on a 38-point first quarter to survive a 13-point second, as the three point shot went from hot to cold. By the third quarter, the game was already well out of reach. The Rockets would cruise to their sixth straight victory behind Harden’s 25 points and 13 assists. Trevor Ariza would follow with 23 points on 5-14 from three. Gordon finally shook his yips and finished 4-7 from three with 17 points on the night.
Game 47: Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans (L, 115-113)
New Orleans is a big team, surrounded by guys who understand that their job is to either get the ball to their bigs or space the court and knock down kickouts. So when the Rockets play the Pelicans it's all about whether their dominating inside presence can outlast Houston’s three-point air assault. Friday night, however, the Rockets were ice cold in the first half from beyond the arc and Anthony Davis and company jumped all over the opportunity. After trailing by as much as 21 early in the second half, Houston shook off their cold start behind a pair of deep threes by Gordon and came roaring back. They eventually tied the game at 104 with 2:34 to go in the fourth, but clutch shooting--including a game-sealing offensive rebound and putback by Demarcus Cousins--would proved to be too much to overcome. Paul led the Rockets with 38 points and 8 assists. Gordon added 27 off the bench, and Harden finished with 23 points and 11 assists.
Game 48: Houston vs. Phoenix Suns (W, 113-102)
The Suns arrived in Houston Sunday looking to end a three-game losing streak during the Rockets’ first afternoon game of the season and came out of the gates swinging. Thirty-six seconds into the game Trevor Ariza was fouled hard going up for a layup and soon exited the game with a hamstring injury after making his free throw attempts. Sloppy ball handling and an unusually large amount of time stoppages prevented the Rockets from getting in sync at any point during the first half, which allowed the Suns to remain competitive throughout. It wasn't until a 32-24 third quarter that Houston was able to pull away and seal the victory. Harden paced the Rockets with 27 points, 8 assists, and 10 rebounds. Chris Paul ended with 17 points and 5 assists, and Clint Capela added a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Fewer games, but tougher opponents: The Rockets are back in action Tuesday at the Toyota Center against the Orlando Magic before heading west to San Antonio on Thursday, followed by a Saturday showdown with LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Orlando could catch Houston looking ahead into the week, but the Rockets should be able to take the win. San Antonio on their home court will prove a much tougher test as well as the nationally televised Cavaliers game. I expect the Rockets to take the Orlando match and split the rest of the week, finishing 2-1.
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.