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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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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