The Rockets Report

Losing streak ends with win over Lakers, but Harden to miss significant time

Losing streak ends with win over Lakers, but Harden to miss significant time
James Harden's injury will test the Rockets. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last week was a series of extremes for the Rockets, as they varied between crushing defeats and thrilling victories on the way to a 1-2 record on the week. In spite of the recent slump, the Rockets still maintain a two-game lead on the division and are second in the western conference overall.

Looking to address their depth issues in the wake of a rash of injuries, the Rockets added Houston-native guard/forward Gerald Green to the team last Thursday. The signing came at a critical time as superstar James Harden fell to injury on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

Game 33: Rockets at Boston Celtics (L, 98-99)

The Rockets had lost three in a row heading into their match up with one of the best teams in the league. With Chris Paul still sidelined with injury, the Rockets nevertheless jumped out to a surprisingly dominant lead following a 30-12 first quarter. The lead ballooned up to as much as 26 points before the Celtics began chipping away towards an incredible comeback. With Clint Capela also out with an injury, Boston pounded the inside and with three seconds remaining in the game, the Celtics took their first lead of the night. Two subsequent offensive fouls by James Harden would seal the Rockets defeat and stretch the losing streak to four in what was possibly Houston’s worst loss of the season.

Game 34: Rockets at Washington Wizards (L, 121-103)

Game two of the northeast back-to-back series provided the same result as the night before, despite the return of Paul to the lineup. The tired-looking Rockets squad shot an abysmal 29% from behind the line on 48 attempts, and the Wizards cruised to a victory. Harden finished with 20 points, followed by Gerald Green and Eric Gordon with 18 and 16 respectively.

Game 35: Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers (W, 148-142)

On New Year’s Eve the Rockets and Lakers finished 2017 with a spectacular performance that required two overtimes to determine a winner. The Rockets dug in late defensively to erase a 17-point deficit and draw even with the Lakers, before a last second offensive rebound and put back by P.J. Tucker--his only points of the night--snapped Houston’s five-game losing streak. Harden would exit the game late in the fourth with a hamstring injury, leaving Paul to guide Houston through both overtimes. Paul delivered, finishing with 28 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds in the last second victory. Harden exited the game with 40 points and 11 assists.

Takeaways

The Rockets are about to do something they haven’t had to do much of since Harden was traded to Houston: play without James Harden. Harden sustained a hamstring strain which will sideline him for at least two weeks—the longest stint he’s ever spent on the injured list. This sheds light on one of the most undervalued aspect of Harden’s overall game--his durability. In the past four seasons, he’s only missed one game to injury. The Rockets are still equipped to win without him, now that Paul and Capela have returned from injury, but it remains to be seen how a Harden-less Houston team can perform if his absence becomes more extended.

Gerald Green’s signing is an example of yet another successful midseason free agent signing that has proved—at least for now—to be paying off. Green is an extremely athletic back court addition and a career .362 three-point shooter. Not including the Boston game which was the day he was signed, Green has averaged 14 points per game in almost 25 minutes per game off the bench.

Looking Ahead:

This week the Rockets have three games with a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday they will take on the Magic at Orlando, before returning home for a midseason test against the conference-leading Golden State Warriors. Houston will then head back out on the road against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. The loss of Harden is a huge blow to the Rockets, but this is still a very dangerous team as long as Capela and Paul are still healthy enough to contribute significant minutes. I expect an easy with against a rebuilding Magic team, followed by a loss against the Warriors and a rebound win against a surprisingly tough Pistons team.

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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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