KEYS TO SUCCESS

Here's how the NBA shutdown helped the Rockets

Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

The NBA shutting down for the Rockets was a good thing as it allows this new reformed Rockets squad to get more comfortable with each other. This also gives coach Mike D'Antoni time to analyze his players more. After four months of rest, this team can become much more dangerous for the playoffs.

Before the All-Star break started, this team had a lot of changes. They had just traded Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks. Inside that trade, multiple players from opposing teams were moved. In that deal, the Rockets received Robert Covington from Minnesota Timberwolves. Covington became a great fit because of his shooting ability, length, and athleticism. He came up huge against the Los Angeles Lakers by shooting 57% from three. The Rockets also required Jeff Green, so they were able to stretch the floor more. Green has become useful because he averages 10.4 points per game and shot 41.2% from three. Now the Rockets have acquired Luc Mbah a Moute which will help the defense when he arrives in Orlando.

Covington feels more comfortable with the Rockets offensive set now but it took some time to get used to. Covington was able to grab additional help from his teammates when it came to learning this offense.

"Just getting more accustomed within the offense. I didn't know too much; I was just out there playing and being guided. Its helping me be more fluid with everything," Covington said on Sunday during the press conference.

Since practice has begun for the Rockets, they have focused more on defense. The Rockets are ranked 19thth in points allowed on the season. The first thing each player has said is that the communication must be better. They lacked communicating on the floor this year because of the holes on defense. Tons of breakdowns on defense allowed easy scoring for opposing teams. The Rockets are ranked 20thth in field goals allowed and 25thth in steals.

"We're getting better every day." We've been doing [a] really good job of communicating on the court," Covington said. "We're paying attention to the little things. Some guys are getting better because we're holding each other more accountable."

If the Rockets want to win a championship in Orlando, their defense must be better.

Now that D'Antoni was given more time to analyze his players, he has put a new offensive set in. GM Daryl Morey told the media on Friday that D'Antoni was working on a new offense. D'Antoni wants to explore the offense more, so he is able to use all of his weapons properly. His focus is not to over coach them because of their individual talent. Having James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon, guys who can get their own shot, it is better to be hands off at times.

"You've got to be careful; you don't want to overcoach them. Most of the emphasis is on turning up what we do, and just trying to make it better," said D'Antoni on Sunday. "We did try to add some wrinkles."

Now that Westbrook and Harden both know their roles, things can become much easier for the Rockets. Both players know how to be effective at the same time without getting in each other's way. This team will become much better because of the rest, and urgency to correct their past mistakes.

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Houston has lost seven of eight

Mariners ride big fifth inning to series win over Astros

Jake Odorizzi earned his second loss as an Astro Sunday. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

With the losing streak behind them by taking the middle game on Saturday night, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Sunday afternoon to try and make it back-to-back victories to take the series. Instead, they'd suffer their seventh loss in the last eight games.

Final Score: Mariners 7, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 7-8, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ljay Newsome (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (0-2)

Odorizzi locks in through four while Houston grabs a lead

Jake Odorizzi did not start his afternoon the way he needed to in order to have a good rebound outing compared to his first start. In the 37-pitch first inning, he issued two walks and an RBI-single, putting the Mariners at a significant advantage early. Odorizzi flipped the switch, though, finding a rhythm to retire the next ten batters after that RBI-single to get through four innings with just one run allowed.

Offensively for Houston, they quickly responded to Seattle's run in the first with one of their own in the top of the second, capitalizing on some shoddy defense by Seattle to get Carlos Correa to second to set up an RBI ground-rule double by Aledmys Diaz, tying things up 1-1. It stayed that way until the top of the fifth when a leadoff walk by Chas McCormick would turn into a run after a stolen base and two sacrifice flys to give Houston a 2-1 lead.

Mariners explode for four in the fifth

The lead was short-lived, as Seattle would explode in the bottom of the fifth, getting a leadoff single and one-out walk to set up a two-RBI triple by Mitch Haniger to go ahead 3-2. That would prompt Dusty Baker out of the dugout to end Odorizzi's day and move on to Brooks Raley. Raley would not fare any better, giving up a two-run homer to Ty France to extend Seattle's new lead to 5-2. He would finish the inning, putting Odorizzi's line final: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 89 P.

Seattle takes the series

Seattle would strike again in the bottom of the seventh against Joe Smith. After a leadoff walk, the Mariners would get back-to-back one-out RBI-doubles to extend their lead to 7-2. After Smith in the seventh, Peter Solomon would make his major-league debut in the bottom of the eighth and work around a one-out walk for a scoreless inning. Houston would then come up empty in the top of the ninth, dropping the finale and the series to Seattle.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Denver tonight and get an off day tomorrow. Tuesday night, they'll start a quick two-game set with the Rockies at 7:40 PM Central. Houston currently has Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 5.27 ERA) penciled in as their starter, but with ongoing illness, he has not yet been fully confirmed. For the Rockies, Jon Gray (1-1, 2.87 ERA) is expected to start.

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