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 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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