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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After a rough, disheartening loss the night before to even the series at one game apiece, the Astros tried to shake it off and regroup for a win on Thursday to get the series win against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Here is a quick recap of the finale:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4.

Record: 6-6, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (0-1, 40.50 ERA).

Bielak tosses an impressive start as Houston puts him in winning position

After both teams finished the first three innings scoreless, the Astros were able to get a little bit of good luck on their side, unlike the night prior. Jose Altuve started the inning with a much-needed single, stole second, then moved to third on a groundout for the second out. That set up Yuli Gurriel, who hit a ball down the third-base line that would strike the bag and bounce away from Arizona, allowing Altuve to score and put Houston up 1-0.

Though he likely would have preferred more run support, Brandon Bielak made do with that one run in his first career MLB start. He was able to complete five innings of work, holding Arizona scoreless over that span despite allowing a runner in each inning. He left in line for the win, with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR.

Altuve extends the lead, then Diamondbacks go ahead

Jose Altuve helped double the lead in the top of the sixth, connecting for a one-out solo home run to make it 2-0. With Bielak's night over at five innings, Cy Sneed took over in the bottom of the sixth and allowed back-to-back one-out doubles to cut Houston's lead in half. He allowed a single to put runners on the corners before Dusty Baker would move on to another reliever to try and preserve the lead. Blake Taylor would enter but allowed the tying RBI-single to take Bielak out of winning position. Taylor would go on to allow a go-ahead run before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor was still on the mound but would only get two outs before another call to the pen. Andre Scrubb would enter and get the final out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Jose Altuve would improve to 3-for-4 on the night with a two-out double, setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead two-run home run to make it 4-3, Houston.

Ryan Pressly allows the walk-off

Scrubb went back to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was able to record a 1-2-3 inning to move the game to the ninth. After a scoreless top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly would attempt to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Instead, he would allow the walk-off, loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles before a two-RBI single to give Arizona the win and the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Oakland to kick off a three-game weekend series with the A's on Friday at 8:10 PM Central. The A's will send Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93 ERA) to the mound while Houston will turn to Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) to help cut down Oakland's division lead.

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