ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets get off to slow start with 1-2 opening week

James Harden and the Rockets struggled in the opening week. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Rockets kicked off their season on Wednesday with an eye-opening thud against a formidable New Orleans team, before a weekend back-to-back series against both of the the Los Angeles squads. Houston was able to squeeze a hard fought victory out of the Lakers, but lost starting point guard Chris Paul to a two game suspension for fighting. Following Saturday’s contest/brawl, the understaffed Rockets would go on to drop a close one to the Clippers. After three games the Rockets are 1-2 and last in the Southwest Division.

Game One: Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans (L, 112-131)

Fans looking for an easy win to shrug off last year’s crushing playoff exit were treated to a rude awakening courtesy of the basketball stylings of Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic. Scoring 32 and 30 respectively, the duo fueled an early game push that the Rockets were never able to catch up to. In a largely uncompetitive game Eric Gordon led Houston in scoring with 21 points, while Harden flirted with a triple-double (18 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds). P.J. Tucker and Chris Paul each added 19 points.

Game Two: Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers (W, 124-115)

There are very few things outside of a championship that are more satisfying that playing spoiler. A year removed from defeating the Golden State Warriors on their ring ceremony night, the Rockets were back at again, this time ruining LeBron James’ highly anticipated home opener with his newest team. James pushed through a slow start to finish with 24 points, while Harden torched the Lakers to the tune of 36 points. If the wildly close game throughout wasn’t entertaining enough, fans were treated to an in-game brawl instigated by Lakers forward Brandon Ingram. The tension boiled over when Lakers guard Rajon Rondo spit in Chris Paul’s face. Paul responded in kind with a less-than-friendly face push, which incite a flurry of Rondo punches. Ingram returned to fray to add a few cheap shots before everyone was separated. Houston would pull away at the end, but it would come at a cost. Paul would ultimately be suspended 2 games, while Rondo and Ingram received 3 and 4 game suspensions respectively.

Game Three: Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (L, 112-115)

Missing their star point guard Paul due to suspension, the Rockets took to the Staples Center late Sunday evening in a face off against a Clippers team that was seemingly gutted throughout the trade deadline and off-season. What was expected to be an easy win turned into a struggle throughout, and a 39-point third quarter surge and last minute  bench contributions would put the Houston away, dropping them to 1-2 on the season. Harden paced the team with 31 points and 14 assists, while Clint Capela and Gordon added 23 and 21 points each.

Observations

Carmelo Anthony has been the subject of speculation since he arrived in Houston, and through three games he’s not exactly passing the eye test. While averaging over 27 minutes per game, Anthony is only averaging 8.3 points per game, to go with 0.7 assists and 6.7 rebounds. Three games certainly isn’t enough to draw any real conclusions, but it certainly is a little eyebrow raising. Hopefully we get more of a Michael Beasley effort this season and not a Joe Johnson.

Looking Ahead

The Rockets have a light two-game schedule to look forward to next week as they square off against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday and a home rematch against the Clippers Friday. Houston will call on the services of their bench against the Jazz to help fill the void left by Paul’s suspension. The Jazz, now healthy, are one of the tougher teams in the Western Conference, so don’t expect an easy win. The Rockets will return to full strength against the Clippers this friday, and should have no issue dispatching the patchwork squad. I expect a 1-1 week.

 

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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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