Rockets Recap

Harden continues to make history as Rockets split four-game week

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Four games, two wins. That was the story of the Rockets this past week as they split the four games scheduled. One of the wins was expected, while the other was necessary. On the other hand, one of their losses was understandable while there was no excuse for the other. Houston is now 24-18, first in the southwest division, and sixth in the western conference.

Postseason feel

The beginning of the week served up two grade-A match ups against the Western Conference leading Denver Nuggets and the league leading Milwaukee Bucks. If there was ever a moment to take stock of the legitimacy of the Rockets' current hot streak, this was it. Monday the Rockets delivered a win in a matchup that, while close, never really felt out of hand. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic did everything he could to keep the Nuggets competitive, but P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, and James Harden's combined 19 3-pointers proved to be too much to overcome. Clint Capela added a career-high 31 points

Wednesday the Rockets took on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in a prime time nationally televised showdown between two of the leagues top MVP candidates. The back and forth contest didn't disappoint as Antetokounmpo went for 27 points and 21 rebounds, while Harden countered with 42 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. It was the Bucks who would come out on top, however, as they rode a 38-23 third quarter to the finish line. Despite the loss, it's become clear that Houston is perfectly capable of competing with any team in the league on any given night.

Statements and head scratchers

Friday night Houston hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers and while a win was reasonably expected, no one imagined that it would turn into the trouncing that it did. The 141-113 devastation of Cleveland could have been worse had the Rockets not sat most of their starters for the entirety of the fourth quarter. Harden continued his brilliance with another 40+ point triple-double. His 43 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists was one for the record books.; a triple-double in less than 30 minutes.

Sunday was a different story however, as the Rockets interrupted their home stand for a quick away game against the Orlando Magic. Houston's momentum hit a wall as the team went cold from the 3-point line when it mattered most. Despite a historically awful game from beyond the arc, Harden still finished with 38 points. It was the 16th straight 30+ point performance from Harden, tying Kobe Bryant's record from the 2002-2003 season. The loss came as somewhat of a surprise after a week of great production against quality opponents.

Looking ahead

Houston will look to right the ship immediately, as they take on the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night, followed by a Wednesday match up against the Brooklyn Nets and a nationally televised contest against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.

The Rockets should see the return of Eric Gordon to the lineup at some point in the coming week, and his scoring should serve as a boost to the Rockets' depth. Chris Paul remains out and it looks like he will continue to be out until the end of the month. Despite both players being sidelined, I don't see any reason why Houston can't sweep this week.

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THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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