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 drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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