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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome