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 loses to end the road trip

Dodgers get best of Odorizzi to split series with Astros

Jake Odorizzi allowed four home runs over three innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After spoiling the night of many Dodgers fans in the opener of this two-game series in Los Angeles the night prior, the Astros returned to the stadium to a fresh set of hostile fans, looking to get the mini-sweep. This one went much more in favor of the home team, though, as the Dodgers would ride three big innings to start the game to the win for the series split.

Final Score: Dodgers 7, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 65-43, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Max Scherzer (9-4)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-6)

Odorizzi gets shelled

After a Michael Brantley solo home in the top of the first run against Max Scherzer, making his Dodger debut, it looked like the Astros may continue their momentum from the night before to grab hold of this game as well. However, that all changed in the bottom of the inning, as the Dodgers would tee off against Jake Odorizzi.

In that inning, he allowed four runs, a leadoff solo shot by Mookie Betts, then later a three-run blast by Will Smith. Betts made it 2-for-2 with solo homers in the bottom of the second, extending the lead to 5-1. Things went from bad to worse in the third, with Los Angeles getting their fourth home run, this one for two runs to make it a 7-1 game. Odorizzi would finish the third but go no further.

Scherzer K's 10 over seven innings in his Dodger debut

Houston tried to start clawing back into it in the top of the fourth, getting a second run against Scherzer with a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, trimming the lead to five runs at 5-2. First out of Houston's bullpen was Yimi Garcia in the bottom of the fourth, and he tossed the first 1-2-3 inning for Houston. Rafael Montero was next in the bottom of the fifth, working around a leadoff double followed by a walk for a scoreless inning.

Montero remained in the game in the bottom of the sixth, still 7-2, and would get another scoreless inning, this time sitting down the Dodgers in order. Scherzer finished his quality debut for his new team in the top of the seventh, erasing a leadoff walk to complete seven innings while allowing two runs.

Astros lose to split the series with Dodgers

Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he, too, would get through a scoreless inning by erasing a two-out single. In the game-within-the-game, the Dodgers brought in Joe Kelly for the top of the eighth, who notched two strikeouts to bring none other than Carlos Correa to the plate, setting up a rematch of the well-known incident that led to the "pouty face" clip from 2020. Carlos Correa won this round, launching a 405-foot homer off of Kelly to make it a four-run game at 7-3.

Phil Maton kept the score there, stranding two runners in the bottom of the eighth to send the 7-3 game to the top of the ninth, where the Dodgers would bring in Kenley Jansen. After a leadoff single, Kyle Tucker would get the Astros within two runs on a two-run homer, making it 7-5. That's as close as they would get, as Jansen would regroup to get the next three batters out to wrap up the loss for Houston.

Up Next: With this road trip completed, the Astros will have a quick turnaround as they catch a late flight back to Houston then turn around with a game Thursday at 7:10 PM Central to open a four-game series with the Twins. Framber Valdez (7-2, 3.01 ERA) will take the mound for Houston in the opener, while Minnesota will counter with Griffin Jax (1-1, 6.41 ERA).

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