TRADE ALERT

Here's why the Rockets are now in panic mode

Big changes are coming. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Late Monday night word broke that the Rockets had traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for former Rocket Trevor Ariza and a pair of first round picks.

Translation: the Houston Rockets are in panic mode.

Things have gone very south on Polk Street ever since Stephen Silas was announced as the Rockets new head coach three weeks ago. That interesting, yet innocuous move would ultimately turn out to be a fuse connected to a cache of explosives seemingly nestled right underneath the entire franchise.

Despite the simultaneous GM and coach turnover this off-season, Rockets fans were still able to find solace in the fact that they still, at the very least, had James Harden. At least until late Sunday night.

When Russell Westbrook made it known he wanted out last week, I didn't bat an eye. Outside of a short stretch in the regular season of vintage Brodie, nothing I witnessed last season suggested that Westbrook was some sort of missing piece that would be putting Houston over the top. An aging star with a mammoth contract, one could only hope that the Rockets would be able to move on from said failed experiment.

Harden wanting out, though, is an entirely different story.

Say what you want about his play style or aesthetic. He is still one of the top five players in the league. Houston is lucky to have him as an asset, and they should be doing everything they can to repair the situation.

If Harden's cryptic IG story is any indication of his leaning, then it looks like the Rockets chances of salvaging the confidence of the best player they've had since one Hakeem Olajuwon are all but gone:

If the message is "no cap," then it basically means "Yes, what you've heard is true."

Here's another less cryptic bit of evidence that Harden might want out:

Turning down $50 million per year is pretty clear statement. Now the Rockets can say that they're not listening to trade offers for Harden as much as they want, but the Covington trade signifies one of two things: they're either trying to use the assets they've received to make a move to appease Harden, or they're all but gearing up to make the numbers work for what is looking more and more like an inevitable separation between the two parties.

If there's any silver lining to be gleaned from the possible departure of one of the greatest players to ever wear a Rockets uniform, it's that the divorce would allow first year head coach Silas to install a scheme unhindered by the demands of one player with disproportionate leverage. A team with James Harden becomes a scheme designed around James Harden. That scheme typically boils down to a deluge of visually unappealing isolation plays with Harden dribbling the air out of the ball. With Harden potentially gone, Silas will be able to develop a more complete and creative scheme.

Simply put: if Harden's gone, we're going to find out real quick just how good of a coach Stephen Silas is.

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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