COUNTDOWN TO LIFTOFF

James Harden and the Rockets are ready for prime time

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

After the last three games, James Harden is averaging 30 points per game and 8.3 assists from the field. Harden has showed his complete readiness in these three games. He was able to score 30 points in the first half against the Boston Celtics Tuesday night.

Harden is in a great shape after an extreme weight loss. He was able to enjoy yoga and a ton of conditioning in Arizona.

"Conditioning, extra sprints after practice and pushing myself to be the best I can be," as Harden told Anthony Duckett from Space City Scoop.

Harden has a grand total of 16 threes in these last three scrimmages. He was able to make contested and step-back threes against opponents. Harden made basketball look easy against tough defenders. He even made sure his teammates were involved the entire game. Harden made sure the ball was rotated to find the correct shot for his teammates. He showcased his court vision by finding PJ Tucker or Ben McLemore for open looks in the corner.

Mike D'Antoni loved Harden's passion for the game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Rockets were down by seven with the Grizzlies leading 87-79 at the end of the third quarter. D'Antoni wanted to take Harden out, but he refused because they were down.

"I tried to [take] James out with about four minutes to go, but he wouldn't have any of it," D'Antoni said Sunday night. "He wanted to play and win. That's the type of person he is. He's such a competitor."

Harden was able to lead the Rockets to a 119-104 victory over the Grizzlies. He finished the game with 31 points and nine assists.


Harden is more than capable of leading the Rockets to better seed with Russell Westbrook on his side. He is ready for the noise to stop by playing great basketball. He'll have his first opportunity Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks.

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After a rough, disheartening loss the night before to even the series at one game apiece, the Astros tried to shake it off and regroup for a win on Thursday to get the series win against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Here is a quick recap of the finale:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4.

Record: 6-6, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (0-1, 40.50 ERA).

Bielak tosses an impressive start as Houston puts him in winning position

After both teams finished the first three innings scoreless, the Astros were able to get a little bit of good luck on their side, unlike the night prior. Jose Altuve started the inning with a much-needed single, stole second, then moved to third on a groundout for the second out. That set up Yuli Gurriel, who hit a ball down the third-base line that would strike the bag and bounce away from Arizona, allowing Altuve to score and put Houston up 1-0.

Though he likely would have preferred more run support, Brandon Bielak made do with that one run in his first career MLB start. He was able to complete five innings of work, holding Arizona scoreless over that span despite allowing a runner in each inning. He left in line for the win, with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR.

Altuve extends the lead, then Diamondbacks go ahead

Jose Altuve helped double the lead in the top of the sixth, connecting for a one-out solo home run to make it 2-0. With Bielak's night over at five innings, Cy Sneed took over in the bottom of the sixth and allowed back-to-back one-out doubles to cut Houston's lead in half. He allowed a single to put runners on the corners before Dusty Baker would move on to another reliever to try and preserve the lead. Blake Taylor would enter but allowed the tying RBI-single to take Bielak out of winning position. Taylor would go on to allow a go-ahead run before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor was still on the mound but would only get two outs before another call to the pen. Andre Scrubb would enter and get the final out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Jose Altuve would improve to 3-for-4 on the night with a two-out double, setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead two-run home run to make it 4-3, Houston.

Ryan Pressly allows the walk-off

Scrubb went back to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was able to record a 1-2-3 inning to move the game to the ninth. After a scoreless top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly would attempt to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Instead, he would allow the walk-off, loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles before a two-RBI single to give Arizona the win and the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Oakland to kick off a three-game weekend series with the A's on Friday at 8:10 PM Central. The A's will send Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93 ERA) to the mound while Houston will turn to Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) to help cut down Oakland's division lead.

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