TRAIL BLAZERS BEAT ROCKETS IN OT, 128-126

Here's what we learned from the Rockets' loss to the Trail Blazers

Here's what we learned from the Rockets' loss to the Trail Blazers
Rockets lose in OT. Photo by Getty Images.
2) James Harden

How did the Portland Trail Blazers survive the depleted Houston Rockets roster? Well, 44 points and eight assists by CJ McCollum helped the Trail Blazers survive the Rockets' new offensive scoring attack. The scoring attack between James Harden and Christian Wood could not outdo Damian Lillard and McCollum.

Although, Harden and Wood combined for 75 points, McCollum and Lillard accumulated 76 points, which is only a point difference. The little things effected the Rockets' throughout Saturday night's game in Portland. Small turnovers, break downs in the back end of the defense, and open shots in the corner became hurtful to the Rockets in the closing minutes. There were countless times when McCollum had wide-open shots, including a game winner with six seconds left.

Stephen Silas the head coach for the Rockets commented on the use of Wood on defense. The idea with Wood was to monitor the guard play of the Blazers, so he was able to watch McCollum and Lillard. There were times when Wood played great one-on-one defense on Lillard. Lillard only shot 33 percent when guarded by Wood on offense.

"The defensive end is something we'll have to work on," Silas mentioned during his press conference. "These shooting guards coming off these pindowns, it's really a hard job to be able to be all the way up to take those away, but then not let the rollers roll below you."

Besides Wood's defense, he was impressive on offense because of his ability to stretch the floor. Wood became tougher going towards the rim and collected three tough offensive rebounds. Jusuf Nurkic struggled defending Wood around the perimeter, as he continued to create off the dribble 15 ft from the basket. Wood scored 12 points on 85 percent shooting versus Nurkic Saturday night. Wood finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and shot 63.6 percent from the field.

The Rockets started the game off hot offensively by scoring 68 points in the first half. It was incredible to watch the Rockets in transition, including their pace down the court. Everybody on the Rockets looked well-conditioned because of the pace they maintained throughout the game. Jae'Sean Tate benefited from this offensive play of the Rockets Saturday night. Seeing Tate in give-in-go opportunities allowed him to score on layups against the Blazers. Tate shot 55 percent from the field and scored 13 points off the bench.

Harden had a magnificent night by scoring 44 points and 17 assists, which is unbelievable. After having a tough week with the NBA, Harden was still able to almost lead this depleted roster to a victory. Harden came in shorthanded without having John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon and still was determined to beat the Blazers. Harden's engagement and communication with his teammates became important throughout the game. His offensive game was potent down the stretch, as Harden made tough layups and shots to push the Rockets to overtime.

James is really good. Regardless of what James does in his spare time, James is really f---ing good at basketball. Like, he's really good," McCollum mentioned in his press conference after the game.

As McCollum and Harden went back and forth, Harden couldn't answer, which resulted in a turnover to seal the game for the Blazers. Silas created an isolation play for James, so he was able to make a play but confusion with PJ Tucker resulted in a turnover. "I was trying to get an isolation at the top for [James Harden] and let him make the play," as Silas mentioned during the press conference after the game.

The Rockets could have won this game, but the Blazers should feel embarrassed by barely beating a depleted roster. This team will be dangerous once Wall, Cousins, and Gordon come back. Hopefully, the Rockets make adjustment as they play the Denver Nuggets Sunday.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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