POINT BLANK

Joel Blank: Rockets need to pick up the pace, tweak the lineup

Starting Eric Gordon might give the offense a boost. Jonathan Daniel

When the Rockets arrived in Oakland to prepare for Game 3, I’m sure they looked in their rear view mirror and hoped that Game 1 was a thing of the past. Of course, Game 2 had all Rockets fans breathing easy again and thinking their team was primed to take back control of the series. Along comes a clunker in Game 3 and now Red Nation has fans once again on the ledge thinking that their season could be coming to an end.

Regardless of what you want to call it and how many people were quick to defend it, Iso ball works best when you play fast—and the isolation ball handler is the facilitator/scorer.  Way too many times, the shot clock went below five seconds on a given posession and just as in the series opener, the Rockets were forced to have the same guy who was isolating also try and get a shot off before the shot clock expired. The Rockets better sit down and pay careful attention to the game film and prepare for a fast-paced, pedal down, all-out sprint to the finish if they have hopes of winning Game 4, especially in the hostile environment of the Oracle arena.

In case some people haven't noticed, the Golden State Warriors have four All Stars in their starting lineup, three of which are capable of going off for 30 points a game at any time and the fourth capable of a triple double every night. In order for Houston to be able to match the firepower of the Warriors they have got to get contributions from Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, and Clint Capela. Of course we are not expecting any of those secondary players to go off for 30 points or more, although Gordon is capable. What is expected from at least 2 of those players on any given night is double digit scoring and filling up a few other stat columns in the box score. If the Rockets have any hopes of competing with the Warriors,  they need help from their supporting cast, play at a pace that allows them to get out on the fast break and in transition, and get the reserves involved.

One of the keys to winning in the NBA is getting odd numbered advantages in your favor and capitalizing on them. Transition opportunities like 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 fast breaks, as well as 4 on 3 and 5 on 4 secondary breaks all lead to easy offense and lots of open shots. In creating these situations, you are also getting your secondary players in a rhythm, touching the ball, and easy baskets which builds confidence as well as contributions to the overall production of the team.

When the Rockets play as slow as they did in Game 1 and again in Game 3, it does the exact opposite. It does not allow the supporting cast to get involved offensively, which not only leads to those players being less productive, but it also carries over to the defensive end of the floor where the same players will be less likely to fully engage and give the extra effort this team so sorely needs.

The Warriors outscored the Rockets 23-10 on the break and 56-40 in the paint in game 3. On top of that, the Rockets bench was viewed as an advantage over Golden State in the series with deeper, more talented reserves, yet ther Warriors outscored Houston's reserves by 2 in Game 3. That simply cannot happen again if the Rockets expect to win another game, let alone this series. Especially when all five Golden State starters were in double figures as compared to only three of the five Rockets who opened the game. Houston had only one bench player score 10 or more and that was Eric Gordon, who shot a miserble 4 of 13 from the floor. The bench has to be better, plain and simple and the supporting cast cannot be on the missing persons report for Game 4 if Houston has plans of making this a long series.  

At this point in the series, the adjustments made by the Rockets coaching staff can be summed up best by saying little risk and little reward. After losing Game 3 by 41 points it may be time for desperate measures. By this I mean it may be time to get as much offense as possible in the starting lineup and that would mean sending Clint Capella to the bench.

I realize that Clint has been a valuable cog in the Rockets defense all season, but let's face it, Houston's problems are not on the defensive end as much as they are trying to jump start their stagnant and stalling offense from possession to possession.  Inserting Gordon in to the starting lineup and going small may not match the Warriors' starters point for point, but it could help the team get off to a better start and play at a faster tempo.

With the team only shooting 32% from behind the arc, and Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker each only contributing 6 points, Gordon in the starting lineup could go a long way to improving the 3-point shooting and the overall offensive production of the team.  Of course Gordon will have to shoot better and be more consistent, but I think that getting him in a rhythm and in the flow of the game earlier may do just that.  Whether the coaching staff decides to go small or not, let's hope they lock themselves in a film room and make some adjustments that will help this team pick up the pace and play at a speed that gives them a better chance to win. If they don't, its time to grab the tackle box and head for the beach because the Rockets will be fishing before you know it.

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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