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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After a rough, disheartening loss the night before to even the series at one game apiece, the Astros tried to shake it off and regroup for a win on Thursday to get the series win against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Here is a quick recap of the finale:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4.

Record: 6-6, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (0-1, 40.50 ERA).

Bielak tosses an impressive start as Houston puts him in winning position

After both teams finished the first three innings scoreless, the Astros were able to get a little bit of good luck on their side, unlike the night prior. Jose Altuve started the inning with a much-needed single, stole second, then moved to third on a groundout for the second out. That set up Yuli Gurriel, who hit a ball down the third-base line that would strike the bag and bounce away from Arizona, allowing Altuve to score and put Houston up 1-0.

Though he likely would have preferred more run support, Brandon Bielak made do with that one run in his first career MLB start. He was able to complete five innings of work, holding Arizona scoreless over that span despite allowing a runner in each inning. He left in line for the win, with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR.

Altuve extends the lead, then Diamondbacks go ahead

Jose Altuve helped double the lead in the top of the sixth, connecting for a one-out solo home run to make it 2-0. With Bielak's night over at five innings, Cy Sneed took over in the bottom of the sixth and allowed back-to-back one-out doubles to cut Houston's lead in half. He allowed a single to put runners on the corners before Dusty Baker would move on to another reliever to try and preserve the lead. Blake Taylor would enter but allowed the tying RBI-single to take Bielak out of winning position. Taylor would go on to allow a go-ahead run before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor was still on the mound but would only get two outs before another call to the pen. Andre Scrubb would enter and get the final out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Jose Altuve would improve to 3-for-4 on the night with a two-out double, setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead two-run home run to make it 4-3, Houston.

Ryan Pressly allows the walk-off

Scrubb went back to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was able to record a 1-2-3 inning to move the game to the ninth. After a scoreless top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly would attempt to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Instead, he would allow the walk-off, loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles before a two-RBI single to give Arizona the win and the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Oakland to kick off a three-game weekend series with the A's on Friday at 8:10 PM Central. The A's will send Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93 ERA) to the mound while Houston will turn to Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) to help cut down Oakland's division lead.

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