THE ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets bounce back with 3-0 week; tougher tests ahead

Tarik Black and the Rockets went 3-0 last week. Rockets.com

Last week the Rockets made progress toward shaking off the biggest slump of the season by sweeping all three opponents by double-digit margins. The team did so without James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute once again, both of whom are on track to return to the lineup at some point this week.

The Rockets record now stands at 30-11 which, as Charlie Palillo mentioned, is a historic pace. No team in franchise history has eclipsed the 60-win mark, including the two championship seasons. Despite this, Houston remains three and a half games back from the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings.

Game 39: Rockets at Chicago Bulls (W, 116-107)

Monday’s game against Chicago proved once again that when the Rockets’ three-point shot is on, they’re an incredibly difficult team to beat. Trevor Ariza buried 6 threes and Eric Gordon and Gerald Green each hit four to help the Houston pull out of a two-game losing streak. Gordon and Chris Paul led the team with 24 points each, and Green added 22 off the bench. Clint Capela added 16 rebounds

Game 40: Rockets 121, Portland Trail Blazers 112

The Rockets returned home on Wednesday for a tough test against a perennially pesky Trail Blazers team led by point guard Damian Lillard. Houston knew it would need to lean on their stars to negotiate a victory, and it was Paul and Gordon who answered the call. A back-and-forth first quarter gave way to a less than comfortable lead that the Rockets would fail to surrender for the rest of the game. Paul would finish with a season-high 37 points and 11 assists. Gordon added 5 three pointers on the way to a 30 point outing, his third 30-plus point performance of the season.

Game 41: Rockets at Phoenix Suns (W, 112-95)

There was little doubt that the Rockets would struggle in the desert, and proof can be seen when Ryan Anderson dunks on you. After a sluggish first quarter, Houston’s motor turned on and the Suns were left in the dust as the Rockets cruised to their third straight victory. Paul led the steamrolling with 25 points, and Anderson and Ariza added 18 each. Clint Capela added 17 points and 16 rebounds, marking the eighth game this season with 15 or more rebounds.

Takeaways:

  • Picking up the slack: With Harden falling to injury at the end of December, it was apparent that someone would need to shoulder the load, and most assumed it would be Chris Paul to do so. Paul has responded, and in the six games played without Harden his stats can prove it:

Paul in December: 21 ppg, 8 apg, 5.6 rpg

Paul since Harden injury: 23 ppg, 10.2 apg, 7.3 rpg

  • Thin up front: Backup center Nene current injury and Capela’s recent one have highlighted quite possibly the achilles heel of the Rockets: They are painfully thin in the front court. Nene and Capela are essentially the only two real rim protectors Houston has, and when one of them goes down, that leaves a hole in the rotation for teams to attack the paint much more effectively. While the Rockets are still a very tough team, It may be worth keeping an eye on whether a move is made to bring in a bargain-value big man as the trade deadline approaches.

Looking Ahead:

This week looks to be one of the more difficult weeks Houston has had this season, which is why they will be thrilled at the very timely scheduled returns of both Mbah a Moute and Harden. The Rockets will play one more game out west against the Clippers tonight before they return home for a Thursday matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a Saturday rubber match against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers upset the Rockets in their last meeting, but I don’t see Chris Paul allowing his old team to steal another. Thursday will be a tough test as Houston will get its first shot at a quietly formidable Timberwolves team that’s currently ranked 4th in the conference. Saturday will be the third matchup between Houston and Golden State, a matchup that looks to pit both teams together with fully healed rosters. It will take another near-perfect performance to take down the champs and a win would be a huge momentum swing. By next Sunday I expect the Rockets to go 2-1 at best, with a loss against Minnesota, Golden State, or both.




 

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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