Time for Relaunch

How the return of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon will impact the Rockets

The Rockets should be back at full force. Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Recently, the Houston Rockets struggled defensively and offensively against the Denver Nuggets. Even though James Harden and Christian Wood were dynamic on offense, it still wasn't enough. James combined for 78 points in the last two games, while Christian had 54 points. The good news is the Rockets get back John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon Thursday night, which is New Year's Eve.

Defensively, the Rockets needed Gordon and Wall against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Nuggets, because of their on-ball defending skills. Gordon and Wall show the true importance in defending the pick-n-roll, fighting screens, and making it extremely hard for guards on the perimeter. Gordon's defensive rating was a 101.7 in the 2019-2020 season, while Wall averaged 98.6 on a bad knee two years ago before his injury. Wall and Gordon would have made it tough for Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jamal Murray, and Portland's role players as well.

The Rockets second unit will improve with Cousins back in the rotation. Cousins provides a spark off the bench because of his shooting. In the preseason, Cousins shot 46 percent from the perimeter, which is extremely valuable to the Rockets' offense. Hopefully, Cousins will be able to mix it up more because of his versatility on offense. Cousins' potential on offense will maximize the Rockets' second unit. Houston could easily have one of the best second units in the NBA because of Gordon and Cousins.

Hopefully, Gordon can transform back to the Sixth Man he was in the 2017-2018 season. In the last two years with the Rockets, Gordon struggled with injures and/or shooting. During training camp, Gordon seemed optimistic and determined to return to averaging 19 points per game and shooting 48 percent from the 3-point line. Gordon averaged 15 points per game during the previous preseason with the Rockets.

Wall will add another scoring threat in the Rockets' starting five because of his athleticism and playmaking skills. Like Gordon and Cousins, Wall will be able to help Harden and Wood. Wall could possibly average 18-20 points per game for the Rockets' offense this season. He still has his explosiveness off the dribble and is able to get by his defenders quickly. Throughout the preseason defenders had a tough time staying in front of Wall, which allowed him to score 16.3 points per game in three games.

Hopefully, the Rockets go on a winning streak starting with the Sacramento Kings Thursday night. The Kings are 3-1 and one of the hottest young teams in the Western Conference, which will be a good test for the Rockets because of their guards and perimeter shooting.

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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