COUNTDOWN TO LIFTOFF

Examining the most interesting things said at Rockets Media Day

Christian Wood should be set to have a big year. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Houston Rockets Media Day was eventful with new faces and optimistic energy. Jalen Green seemed excited to be a Rocket and to be playing in the NBA. "It's a dream come true. I'm super happy. It's a blessing," Green said. Coach Stephan Silas seems refreshed after a catastrophic season last year. He had a huge smile as he walked into the room before answering questions alongside GM Rafael Stone.

"Last year was challenging. It started off one way, then we had a bunch of changes and COVID and injuries and everything. I learned a lot last year and I learned a lot from a bunch of our guys, as far as them sticking with it and playing hard at the end and who we could depend on," Silas said. "Then the older guys who were injured but still staying with the group and happy about being Rockets. Then we have our new guys who are kind of fitting in to what we did last year. I'm super excited about the future of this group."

There is a ton of speculation on how Silas and Stone will handle the roster for this season, as it is talented. The Rockets are extremely grateful to have a talented roster, as their training camp should be competitive. Players at the bottom of the roster are playing for minutes or just to even make the team in Houston. And players that won't make the team are auditioning for other rosters in the NBA and the G-League.

"It's going to be up to Rafael and I to get [a] feel for who plays well together," Silas said. Who might not be able to play as well together… And I'm not going to make any decisions about starting lineup or playing groups."

Silas even elaborated on the combo of Kevin Porter Jr. and Green, and the type of offensive gadgets he wants to revolve around the two. Those two are very explosive and versatile and know Silas wants the combination to push the tempo by running the floor and creating space. Green's goal is to win Rookie of the Year underneath Silas. "The goal is to win Rookie of the Year and the fact that I didn't go number one is certainly motivation," Green said.

"The type of style Rafael and I believe in is playing fast and playing with a bunch of space. Letting those guys play to their strengths and getting the ball moved from side to side", Silas said. "Scoot [Porter]is bringing it up one side and get it to Jalen on the other side and vice versa. I don't think we got to do anything tricky at all. Both are good ball handlers, athletic, and gifted."

A lot is on the line for Christian Wood this season

Christian Wood should be set to have a big year, as he had a breakout year of 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 51/37.4/63.1 percent from the field. "For the first time in my career, I saw myself involved in trade talks after having a breakout season... I'm even more motivated than I was before," said Wood. Wood has a big year in front of him, as it could be a contract year for him too. During the offseason he focused more on his shooting and passing, so he can become more consistent throughout the season.

"Finishing, passing, shooting… I feel like there were times where my shot would get inconsistent. I want to be able to shoot more consistently," Wood said. "I want to be able to pass out of double teams. I feel like [I'll] see a lot more double teams this season."

Wood will have more company alongside him this season, which is Daniel Theis. Theis plays a huge part for the Rockets on offense and defense, as he is great at creating space with his body because of his IQ. He is a terrific screener on offense for point guards inside the two-man game and a decent rebounder, as the big man averaged 5.5 rebounds per game last season. Theis believes Wood and him will be able to click well in the paint.

"Definitely. We can play together, play fast, we can get stops, and run. I played in a big lineup in Boston, I played alongside Vucevic in Chicago," Theis said. "Similar to spacing to the floor with Christian [Wood]. With us now, it's just learning how to play with each other and read the other guy. When we play pick-and-roll, the other guy has to roll, and the other guy has to space."

Porter Jr. became the biggest focus in the offseason after having a good sophomore season, which had a big jump from 10 points to 16 points per game and shot 42.5 percent from the field. He started off rough with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he was traded to Houston for a second-round pick because of an altercation with GM Koby Atlman. Porter said he battled with depression and love for the game. Ever since he came to Houston, it helped revamp is career in the NBA. He gave credit to John Lucas and Silas for helping, and the organization as whole.

"They gave me love and confidence in myself, and motivation to become a better player and person. They've invested a lot in me, and I try to give them my all to repay them in some way," Porter said. "This organization saved my life, potentially. I just love being here, and I want to be here for a while."

Porter has seen a ton of support from his teammates like Green and other players around the NBA. "He's always making plays and the pass, and he can go get a bucket. He's got the whole package," Green said. Chris Brickley, his trainer, gave Porter a ton of respect regarding his game on Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes' podcast, All the Smoke, on Thursday.

"He is so talented, he is a beast and everyone sees it (Kevin Porter Jr.). James [Harden] is like yo, make sure we work together this summer. He is a hooper. He has handle, he can shoot, he is athletic," Brickley said.

Everyone wants to know why John Wall and Stone have agreed to find a better situation for him. "We all just came together and felt it was the best decision for all parties. It wasn't easy. It was tough," Wall said. It makes sense because of the new combination of Porter and Green. Although Wall isn't playing for the team this season, he'll still use his veteran presence to help the younger core until he is traded. Stone wants to do his due diligence and find him the right home, as he did with James Harden and PJ Tucker.

Media day was delightful, so on to training camp.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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