FUEL TO THE FIRE

Let's examine the X-factors for the Houston Rockets

Photo via: Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets need more than just James Harden and Russell Westbrook to win a championship. It takes a complete team to win so having important X-factors plays a huge part. After watching two of the Rockets' scrimmages, Ben McLemore, Jeff Green, and Danuel House looked impressive.

On Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, McLemore erupted in the fourth quarter with 11 points. McLemore was able to go 6/7 from behind the arc with 26 points. He has been able to shoot almost 40% from three and is averaging 9.8 points per game. McLemore has been useful for the Rockets this season because of his streaky shooting. Westbrook and Harden have been huge supporters of McLemore this season.

"Being able to play alongside those guys is a blessing," McLemore said last Tuesday. "They took me underneath [their] wing as a little brother."

Jeff Green is also important to the Rockets because of is length, shooting, and ability to spread the floor. Green is also a good defender meaning he can guard any position on the court at 6′8″. He was signed to the Rockets February 18, 2020, on a 10-day contract. After Green's performance against the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, and Grizzlies, Daryl Morey decided to sign him for the rest of the season. Green is averaging 10.4 points per game, shooting 41.2% from three, and his FG percentage is 62.1%. He became useful to Harden because of the pick and roll. That is why Green's FG percentage is high.

Sunday against the Grizzlies, Green scored 15 points.

"I knew Green was more than capable of helping us," said Harden on Sunday. "That was one of the reasons we reached out. He's able to handle the basketball, he's able to knock down shots, he's pretty solid on defense, so he fits into what we're doing."

Another impressive X-factor on the court is Danuel House. House is the streakiest shooter on the court. He is averaging 10.2 points per game but is shooting 36.3% from three. House is having an inconsistent year, shooting wise. Last season, House was shooting 41.6% from three. Probably the reason why Eric Gordon was inserted in the starting lineup for the bubble restart.

Even though House is coming off the bench now, he still brings a lot of support. Against the Toronto Raptors Friday night, House had 18 points off the bench. He shot 3 of 6 from three and 7 of 11 from the field. House was able to find more open looks with the second unit on the court. Which makes it much easier for him to gain his confidence. House is looking to finish the season strong inside the bubble.

Austin Rivers will return after his 10-day quarantine is up. He is also important to the Rockets because of his NBA tenure and playoff experience. After backing up Chris Paul on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Rockets, Rivers has experience coming of the bench. Rivers can lead the second unit with Harden or Westbrook on the court. Even though Rivers averages 8.5 points per game, he is still impactful by making big shots.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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