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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Houston needs a win to advance

ALWC Game 2 Preview: Astros vs. Twins

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It took all nine innings, but the Astros rallied late and took Game 1 by a score of 4-1 and are in the driver's seat in this best-of-three series. They'll return to Target Field, home of the Twins, on Wednesday afternoon to try and get the win and advance to the ALDS. Here's what you need to know about Game 2:

Game Facts

When: Wednesday, 12:08 PM Central

Where: Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: ESPN 2

Streaming: ESPN App

Pitching Matchup: Jose Urquidy+ vs. José Berríos.

Series: HOU leads 1-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching Matchup
Game 1 Astros 4, Twins 1 Target Field, Minneapolis Greinke vs. Maeda
Game 2 Wed 9/30, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis Urquidy+ vs. Berríos
Game 3* Thu 10/1, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis McCullers Jr.+ vs. Pineda+

* If necessary.
+ Projected starters.

Game Storylines

Houston's offense has to get going earlier

The Twins' error in the ninth inning in Game 1 was a gift for the Astros that they were able to take advantage of and score the winning runs. It's unlikely to be handed another chance like that in the postseason, so in Game 2, it's paramount that Houston creates their own opportunities at the plate.

The good news is, every batter in the lineup was able to reach base in the first game, either by hit or walk. However, they would go 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position while leaving nine on base during the game. Because they can't expect to have two pitchers to combine for a one-run game on Wednesday, they will have to carry over the momentum from the end of Game 1 into Game 2 to build a lead their bullpen can carry.

Trust your arms to navigate through

Whether it's Jose Urquidy, who is the likely candidate, or anyone else who ends up starting Wednesday's game, the Astros have to be prepared to have a longer stretch of innings filled by their bullpen. Despite his struggles to end the regular season, Greinke did well only to allow one run to the Twins over his four innings in Game 1.

You should expect a similar outcome in Game 2, where hopefully your starter can hold the Twins at bay for as long as they can before needing to make the change to relievers. It will be interesting to see how Dusty Baker plays that situation, mostly dependent on the score at the time, as he could have someone like Cristian Javier come in for multiple innings. The only thing the Astros shouldn't do is fire too many of their bullets and put their chances in a potential Game 3 at risk.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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