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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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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