Rockets Report

Harden powers Rockets to undefeated week

James Harden averaged 37 points per game last week. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Another week into the season and the Houston Rockets continued to remain an undefinable enigma. After finishing winless against teams with losing records two weeks ago, the Rockets followed that up with an undefeated week against quality playoff level competition. The three-game win streak returned Houston to an even .500 record at 14-14. Houston remains last in the Southwest Division, but have moved up to 12th in the Western Conference overall.

Tuesday night Houston hosted the Trail Blazers looking to make up for the blowout loss Portland handed them earlier in the season. Portland jumped out early, leading by as much as 12 in the first quarter, but Houston would close the gap to keep the game close through the half. It remained a back and forth match until Houston's bench ignited a 25-5 run near the end of the third to effectively put the game away. James Harden led the Rockets with 29 points, and--despite an awful shooting night--Chris Paul ended the night with an 11 point, 10 assistance, 11 rebound triple-double.

Houston followed Tuesday night's much needed win with slug fest victory against LeBron James and the Lakers. In a battle that featured two of the games best players, Harden would come away the victor behind a 50-point, 11 assist, 10 rebound triple-double.

Saturday night Houston took on the Memphis Grizzlies in a quick road trip game. As the Rockets had begun to pick up steam it seemed like a matchup against the 16-12 Grizzlies would serve as stiff competition. The game itself was anything but, and a poor shooting first half from Memphis proved too difficult to recover from as Houston remained in command throughout. A late push from the Grizzlies would narrow what was at one point a 27-point lead, but Houston would hold on thanks to a 32 point, 10 assist, 12 rebound performance from Harden.

The Week of The Beard

In spite of Houston's overall record, Harden continues to perform at the same high level that earned him last season's MVP nod. Harden ended the week with two straight triple-doubles and his 50-point triple-double--the fourth such of his career--became a new NBA record. Harden finished the week averaging 37 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.6 rebounds during their current win streak.

Bench Bolstered

The past two weeks have seen several key players return from injury. Last week was center Nene, who stepped in and immediately contributed big minutes. Wednesday marked the debut of Brandon Knight, an offseason acquisition from Phoenix who had yet to play an NBA game since suffering an ACL injury on February 17, 2017. Prior to the injury, Knight was a capable scorer, averaging 15.2 points and 4.3 assists over six seasons. The Rockets will bring him into the fold slowly, and if he can regain that scoring ability expect to see a healthy share of minutes headed Knight's way.

R-E-L-A-X

The sirens have been going off throughout Houston concerning the Rockets' sub .500 record up until last night. It's true that Houston is dead last in their division. They're 12th in the Western Conference. It doesn't sound great, but luckily parity has been the theme of the season. As a result, the Rockets are only 1.5 games back in the division and 5 games out of first place in the conference. No one likes to see losses, but rest assured that the Rockets are far from out of it.

Looking ahead

Houston opens the week before Christmas with a Monday matchup at home against the Jazz, followed by a Wednesday game hosting the Wizards. They'll face a quick turnaround with an away game at Miami before returning home to take on the Spurs on Saturday.

The Jazz have yet to lose against the Rockets in two contests this season, and the Wizards defeated Houston in their only contest so far as well. Thursday will be the Rocket's first look against a struggling Heat team, and Saturday will serve as a rubber match in the I-10 battle against the Spurs. The past two weeks have left me 0-6 in calling weeks, but I'll try to do my best Rockets impression and rebound. I'm calling a 3-1 week.

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Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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