ROCKETS ON A ROLL

Lance Zierlein: Daryl Morey started it, but I know how to finish it

Lance Zierlein: Daryl Morey started it, but I know how to finish it
Daryl Morey has put together a roster that can beat Golden State...If they listen to Lance. Rockets.com

Earlier this year in this very space, I tried to tell you that this Rockets team was a team you could trust. I implored you to look past the playoff failings of the past by James Harden and the rest of the Rockets. I asked that you recognize the roster composition and keep an open mind in analyzing and assessing this Rockets team as a brand new unit…. a unit that is designed to go deeper than any of Daryl Morey’s recent iterations.

Last night, the Rockets proved once again why it’s safe to jump on the bandwagon with a 115-111 win in Portland against a team that previously carried a 13-game win streak until the Rockets sent them and their fans home with sad face emojis on. It’s official. This team is different.

Built to guard

The addition of Chris Paul was obviously important because it spread the “alpha leadership” role from just James Harden to another player who is highly respected and highly competitive in Paul. That’s the obvious observation. However, the most important moves from an Xs and Os standpoint was when Morey added guys like P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to go with Trevor Ariza as perimeter defenders.

The Golden State Warriors (and actually the Rockets for that matter) love to get teams by creating screen situations where defenders have to switch or fight over screens. When the Warriors are able to create a switch situation, they exploit the matchup with a one-on-one with one of their deadly shooters. In Mbah a Moute, Gerald Green, and Ariza, the Rockets have great length with the ability to switch and defend multiple positions.

In essence, the Rockets can go smaller and they can switch with most of their defenders and this just might be the kryptonite they need, along with an MVP in James Harden, to knock of the Golden State Warriors and grab Houston back-to-back titles in Houston (we are just going to skip over the Texans season if that is OK).

How to close

There are a few steps the Rockets need to follow to make this championship dream a reality. First and foremost, just finish what you started and capture the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs. The Rockets now have a four-game lead over an injury-riddled Warriors team and that should stand as long as the Rockets don’t completely collapse.

If the Rockets lock up the top seed quickly enough, they can start to manufacture rest for James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and any other Rockets who are fatigued or needing rest. Keeping your core fresh and getting them healthy from any nagging injuries is something that many teams won’t have the luxury of doing.

Play your game for 48 minutes. That’s the final piece of the puzzle for the Rockets. For whatever reason, there is a league-wide habit of defaulting to one-on-one possessions that end in contested, long jump shots when the game gets into the final couple of minutes. Don’t do that, Rockets. Don’t do that, James Harden. You are having tremendous success with how you play basketball for the first 46 minutes so play the same way over the final two.

Daryl Morey has put together a Rockets club that is set to break organizational records and lead the franchise and city into one of the most anticipated postseasons in team history. If they simply follow my “how to close” rules, we’ll be setting up for another parade and tasting the tears of our vanquished opponents.





 

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Astros lose to Braves, 6-2. Composite Getty Image.

Reynaldo López struck out seven over six scoreless innings, Orlando Arcia homered and the Atlanta Braves won their third straight, 6-2 over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

López (2-0) allowed four hits and walked one in his third straight sterling outing to start the season.

“It’s like I’ve always said, for me, the important thing is to focus,” López said through an interpreter. “To have the focus during the outings and then, to be able to locate those pitches.”

He has given up one run in 18 innings for an ERA of 0.50.

“He threw the ball really well against a really good hitting club,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Another solid one.”

Arcia hit a solo home run to left in the second and a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Luis Guillorme and backup catcher Chadwick Tromp each hit a two-run double in the ninth to put the Braves ahead 6-0.

“Tromp has done a good job ever since we’ve been bringing him in these situations and filling in,” Snitker said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him back there. ... He’s an aggressive hitter. He’s knocked in some big runs for us in the limited time that he’s played.”

Kyle Tucker homered for the Astros leading off the ninth against Aaron Bummer, and Mauricio Dubón had a two-out RBI single to cut the lead to four. After Bummer walked Chas McCormick to put two on, Raisel Iglesias induced a groundout by Victor Caratini to end it and secure his fourth save.

“They pitched well, and our guys are grinding out at-bats,” Houston manager Joe Espada said. “Even in the ninth inning there, we’re grinding, fighting until the end.”

Hunter Brown (0-3) yielded two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and three walks in six innings. Brown allowed nine runs in two-thirds of an inning in his previous start, last Thursday against Kansas City.

Brown said he executed better Tuesday than he had in his previous two starts.

“He mixed all his pitches well,” Espada said. “The breaking ball was effective. He threw some cutters in on the hands to some of those lefties. He mixed his pitches really well. That was a really strong performance.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Braves: 2B Ozzie Albies was placed on the 10-day injured list with a broken right big toe. IF David Fletcher had his contract selected from Triple-A Gwinnett to take Albies’ place on the roster.

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (right shoulder inflammation) threw a side session Tuesday, but Houston will wait until Wednesday to see how Verlander feels before deciding whether he will make his first start this weekend against the Nationals, Espada said. ... RHP Luis Garcia (right elbow surgery) threw around 20-25 pitches off the bullpen mound, and RHP José Urquidy (right forearm strain) also threw off the mound, Espada said. ... LHP Framber Valdez (left elbow soreness) played catch off flat ground.

UP NEXT

Atlanta LHP Max Fried (1-0, 8.74 ERA) starts Wednesday in the series finale opposite RHP J.P. France (0-2, 8.22).

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