ROUGH GOING

Harden injured as Rockets drop another early contest

James Harden had a good night before being injured. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Rockets tipped off at Toyota Center Wednesday night with more questions than their roster had faced in the past two seasons combined. Fans watched to see how they would fare against a formidable Utah Jazz team minus their star point guard Chris Paul for a second straight game, and while a noticeably absent defensive presence resurged, the offense went cold. The Rockets would not only go on to lose the game, but possibly their MVP James Harden as well.

Houston shot out of the gate with an intensity they had otherwise lacked in their two losses so far both on offense and defense. Harden keyed the offense, going 4-4 with 10 points and 5 assists, while Carmelo Anthony was able to warm up early with 9 points. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell started equally as strong with 11 points.

Foul trouble became an issue, with Anthony, Harden, and Carter-Williams each having picked up 2 fouls with 8:39 left in the second quarter. Eric Gordon struggled to contribute going 0-7 to start from beyond three. Harden's 4-4 start would fizzle into a 5-10 effort by halftime as the Rockets headed into the locker room down eight. Donovan Mitchell continued to build off his strong first quarter, finishing the half with 20 points.

The third quarter began with more of the same theme; strong defense (finally), but an inability to convert open looks on the opposite end. The Rockets would manage to land Jazz front court stalwarts Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in foul trouble, but cold shooting sabotaged any attempt to close the gap with Utah. Anthony would pour in a few last minute shots to keep the Rockets within 9 at the end of the third, but with the team shooting 26% from beyond the arc, it should have been a much bigger lead. Mitchell continued his onslaught, as his points total ballooned to 28. Jazz led after three, 75-66.

The Rockets began heating up finally in the fourth and an Anthony block followed by an Anthony three on the other end would draw the Rockets to within 6. Harden checked in with around seven minutes left, immediately sparking a run both defensively and offensively to draw to within 5, however a subsequent shot clock violation would stall the run. A timeout was called and before play resumed, Harden was suddenly off to the locker room with the trainer in what would later be diagnosed as a hamstring injury. The loss of Harden would be too much to overcome and the Rockets would fall 100-89 to the Jazz. Harden would leave with 29 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, while Mitchell would finish with 38 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists.

Takeaways

Carmelo Anthony showed promise within the Rockets’ offense, finishing with a season high 22 points after averaging less than 9 in his first three games. Allowing Melo to establish a rhythm like he was able to tonight in games will be pivotal to his ability to contribute moving forward.

Harden's hamstring is obviously something to keep an eye on. While speaking to the media he claimed it was “nothing serious,” and he was just “being cautious.” If true, then the Houston dodged a major bullet. Harden is one of the tougher players in the game and doesn't like sitting out, so if he sits on Friday, it's safe to assume that he's actually hurt.

Once again the Rockets were out-rebounded (47-35) and out-scored in the paint (48-36). Capela finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks in a hefty 38 minutes of work, but as it stands, he's really the only capable body down low at the moment. Until Houston gets healthy, expect teams to continue to pound the inside while Capela sits.

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Houston vs Los Angeles Clippers, Friday, 7:00 pm

 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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