The Rockets Report

Rockets finally put some wins together, go 2-1 for the week

James Harden returned this week. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Rockets entered the third week of the season desperate to return injured players and even more desperate for a win. A Tuesday matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers would prove too difficult a task for the undermanned squad, but as players returned later in the week, so to did Houston into the win column. With their first winning week of the season and a current two-game win streak, the Rockets are now 3-5 on the season. Houston is now fourth in the Southwest Division and 13th in the Western Conference.

Game six: Houston vs Portland Trail Blazers (L, 104-85)

Houston resumed play on Tuesday hoping to capitalize on a tired Trail Blazers team finishing up the second part of a back to back series. The Rockets came out strong defensively, but their inability to convert offensively drug the pace of the game to a crawl resulting in a 19-15 Portland lead after one. Guard Damian Lillard would switch into a different gear in the second and the Trail Blazers would leave a thin Houston rotation still missing James Harden in the dust. Chris Paul led the Rockets with an inefficient 17 points, while Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic each dropped 22 for Portland.

Game Seven: Houston at Brooklyn Nets (W, 119-11)

Friday night the Rockets traveled to Brooklyn for their most winnable matchup of the week. Even still, there was doubt that the Houston squad--who had up to this point proven nothing--could finally break out of their four-game skid. Early indications seemed to reinforce the concern as the Rockets once again fell behind early. Brooklyn seemingly scored at will as they fired at a 71.9 percent clip up until halfway through the second quarter. A Rockets timeout was called to regroup, and instead of strategizing, Paul waved off the coaching staff to address the team in his own. From that point on, Houston's defense clamped down and Brooklyn's field goal percentage dropped to 35.8. Houston would escape with a victory behind a 32-point performance from Paul and 28 from Carmelo Anthony.

Game eight: Houston at Chicago Bulls (W, 96-88)

The Rockets welcomed back James Harden to the lineup Saturday night to finish a back to back series against the Bulls, and his welcome return to the lineup was immediately felt. The first half was closely contested as both teams traded leads. In the third quarter, Harden took over and sparked an 11 point run of his own to pull away for good. Houston would run away with the victory behind Harden's 25 points.

Takeaways

Better together: The Rockets overall record may be 3-5, but when you look at the games where Harden and Paul are on the court together, Houston has a record of 2-1. This is proof still that the Rockets aren’t quite what their record suggests, although that’s not to say that their aren’t issues that need to be addressed.

Melo is warming up: After a slow start and what could only be assumed was an adjustment period to his new role, Carmelo Anthony has regained the offensive firepower he was brought into provide. In the past four games Anthony has averaged 19.3 points per game with a 48.3 percent field goal rate. Anthony was brought on to the Rockets to pour in points off the bench, and it looks like at the moment that’s exactly what’s happening

Looking ahead:

The Rockets will remain on the road most of next week as they face the Pacers Monday, followed by the Thunder Thursday, and the Spurs Saturday before returning Sunday to finish the week with their second look at the Pacers. The Rockets are slowly regaining their health and form, and a Houston squad with Harden in the lineup has to be taken seriously. The Rockets will face a real test against a tough Pacers team, but their matchup against a reeling Thunder squad looks winnable. The weekend back to back will be a daunting one as well, and until the Rockets prove that they can maintain their defensive intensity and get their shots to fall, I can't confidently expect more than two wins this week.


 

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Houston's bats have a hot night

Astros clobber Rangers to win series opener

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After dropping two of three in Seattle, the Astros entered the regular season's final series still waiting to clinch their playoff berth. Luckily their matchup favored them, with four games against the 19-37 Rangers, which they have done well against in recent years. Here are highlights from the opener:

Final Score: Astros 12, Rangers 4.

Record: 29-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance Lynn (6-3, 3.32 ERA).

Astros put up 10 on Lynn 

Houston had no trouble getting acquainted with the Rangers' new stadium, jumping out to an early lead in the top of the first inning. After a lengthy at-bat against Lance Lynn, Jose Altuve reached on a one-out single, then scored from first on a two-out RBI-triple by Alex Bregman. They'd double their lead in the next at-bat on an error, making it 2-0.

They extended that lead even more in the next inning, getting back-to-back singles to start the inning to set up a big three-run dinger by George Springer to straightaway center-field to make it 5-0. Bregman added two more RBI to his night in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on a leadoff single by Michael Brantley by hitting a two-run homer to make it a 7-0 lead. Altuve would push the total to double-digits in the top of the sixth, lifting a three-run home run of his own to make it a 10- lead.

Javier with a decent start, bullpen closes out the win

Meanwhile, Cristian Javier was doing well on the mound against the Rangers. He allowed just three baserunners through the first five innings, a double in the first, a hit batter in the second, and a single in the fifth. He would falter a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff single then a two-run homer, then later in the inning a sac fly, making it 10-3 before Houston would turn to their bullpen. Javier's final line: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 95 TP.

Luis Garcia would get the final out of the sixth then returned for the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff double that would score on a two-out RBI-double, making it a six-run game before Garcia finished the frame. Brooks Raley was the next reliever and notched two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.

Josh Reddick gave Houston two more insurance runs, joining the home run barrage with a two-run homer in the top of the inning to make it 12-4 going to the bottom half. Brandon Bielak was given a low-leverage opportunity to throw in the bottom of the ninth. He erased a two-out double for a scoreless inning to wrap up the lopsided win, lowering Houston's magic number to 1.

Up Next: The second game of this four-game set between Houston and Texas will start Friday at 7:05 PM Central at Globe Life Field. The pitching battle will be Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53 ERA) for the Rangers and Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78 ERA) for the Astros.

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