ROCKETS WIN!

Rockets beat playoff-bound Clippers to salvage a .500 season

Rockets Ime Udoka
Rockets defeat Clippers, 116-105 Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

Rookie Cam Whitmore scored 21 points and the Houston Rockets beat the playoff-bound Los Angeles Clippers 116-105 on Sunday to finish at .500 season and avoid a fourth straight losing season.

Rookie Amen Thompson had a triple-double of 18 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists for the already eliminated Rockets, who finished 41-41 in coach Ime Udoka's first season. Houston was 22-60 last year and 20-62 in 2022.

The Pacific Division champion and fourth-seeded Clippers are headed to the playoffs, where they'll meet Luka Donic and the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round next weekend.

Terance Mann scored 24 points and Amir Coffey added 18 for the Clippers in their last regular-season game at Crypto.com Arena. It's where they've juggled dates with the Lakers and NHL’s Kings since 1999. The team is moving to its new Intuit Dome in Inglewood next season.

The Clippers couldn't avoid their first three-game losing streak since James Harden's first game with the team, when they lost six in a row from Nov. 1-14.

Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard missed his eighth straight game because of right knee inflammation. The team went 4-4 over that stretch.

Coach Tyronn Lue gave his usual opaque answers about Leonard’s status for the upcoming playoffs before the game. “We’ll see. He feels OK,” said Lue, who, when asked if Leonard has been working out, said, “He’s been doing a little something.”

Also sitting out for the Clippers were Paul George, Harden, Ivica Zubac, Russell Westbrook, Norman Powell and Bones Hyland, who scored a combined 64 points in his previous three games.

Xavier Moon had 14 points, six rebounds and six assists in his first career start for the Clippers. Moon, a 6-footer, beat 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic in a jump ball in the fourth. They matched up again and Marjanovic stuck out his long arm to poke the ball away from Moon.

“He's a big boy,” said Clippers assistant Dan Craig who coached the game, “but X got that jump ball against him.”

Marjanovic scored 13 points in 12 minutes of the fourth. The former Clipper delighted the fans when he smilingly missed two free throws to ensure they would receive free chicken sandwiches.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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