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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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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