ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets just keep rolling toward best record in the league

Rockets just keep rolling toward best record in the league
James Harden and Chris Paul are riding the wave to the best record in basketball. Houston Rockets/Facebook

I’ve tried to stay grounded watching this Rockets squad all season.

I’ve continuously attempted to provide objective weekly win predictions, yet as the season has progressed this team has turned more and more into some video game version of a basketball team that no one has figured out the answer to. Somewhere along the line James Harden became a near shoe-in for the league MVP award. Somewhere along the line the entire team adopted bought in to Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s so wholeheartedly that even when Houston’s superstars are out, opposing teams are crushed and their fans are left asking “Who scored on us?”

The Rockets survived a Tuesday night thriller versus Portland followed by a Thursday night mud fight against the Pistons, before cruising to victories Saturday night and Sunday night. Sunday night’s victory was their ninth straight and since last week Houston has increased its Western Conference lead on the Golden State Warriors (YET AGAIN) to 5.5 games. The Rockets maintain the best record in the league, and Saturday night they set a franchise record for most wins in a single season ever. That includes both championship seasons.

If you aren’t already, it is officially time to get excited for the playoffs. This team is special.

Game 71: Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (W, 115-111)

Tuesday's matchup pitted the Rockets against a white-hot Trail Blazers team riding a 13-game win streak, and the result was far from disappointing. In one of what has become a rare opportunity for another NBA team to prove itself an actual threat, the No. 3-seeded Portland Trail Blazers unloaded everything they had against Rockets, maintaining a close game throughout.

The problem, however, is that James Harden was also interested in winning this matchup.

Harden poured in 42 points on the way to a very tightly contested victory against the third best team in the western conference, including two absolutely vicious step back daggers late in the fourth to seal it. Chris Paul added 22 points, but pulled up injured in the very last few seconds of the game with a tweaked hamstring

Game 72: Rockets vs Detroit Pistons (W (OT), 100-96)

Gross.

Houston was without Chris Paul in its attempt to close out the season series versus Detroit with a win, and thanks to an abysmal shooting night from behind the arc it took an extra quarter of basketball to deliver. The Rockets went 12-51 from beyond the arc, and looked sloppy throughout. Yet, in one of their sloppiest games, they were still never out of it thanks in part to an even worse night from three-point land from the Pistons. Detroit struggled at a 6-38 clip from three, and despite out rebounding the Rockets 72-60, Harden once again staged some late game heroics (this time defensively) to force an overtime that would inevitably pave the way to a Rockets victory. Eric Gordon would lead the team with 22 points, while Harden followed with 21 thanks largely in part to some late game fouling. The win tied Houston for the most franchise wins in a single season ever.

Game 73: Houston vs New Orleans Pelicans (W, 114-91)

The Rockets/Pelicans series prior to Saturday night had been a season’s worth of fantastic, closely contested matchups that were decided by an average of 5 points or less. Saturday night, however, the Rockets showed no interest in another such game. A 29-16 first, followed by a 35-21 second quarter fueled a statement victory, with Harden scoring 27 points in three quarters. Eric Gordon followed with 19 points, on 4-9 from three-point range. Clint Capela--with his best Anthony Davis impression--added 18 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks. The win set a new franchise record for wins in a single season.

Game 74: Houston vs Atlanta Hawks (W, 118-99)

For a third straight night Chris Paul sat due to injury as the Rockets closed out the week against an unimposing Atlanta Hawks team. It was a contest that was put away very early by the home team, thanks in part to contributions from the bench while Paul continued to nurse his hamstring. Gerald Green led the team with 25 points in a matchup that saw Houston’s lead as high as 26 at one point. Gordon followed with 22 points, while Harden added an 18 point, 10 rebound, and 15 assist triple-double; because of course he did. The seemingly effortless victory was Houston’s ninth in a row and their 60th win on the season.

Looking ahead

The Rockets return to the court with home games Tuesday and Friday against the Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns respectively before a Sunday away game against the San Antonio Spurs ends the week.

This is probably one of the easiest weeks Houston has had in months as Chicago has dropped the past five in a row, and Phoenix the past eleven. San Antonio, while typically a perennial contender has proven to be completely outmatched against Houston all season, and I don’t see anything changing this week. I normally don’t expect a team to win all of its matchups in a week, but if there was a week to bank on it, this would be the one.

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These uniforms have to go. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Major League Baseball will consider going back to having players wear their team uniforms for the All-Star Game.

Club uniforms were used by the American League from 1933-2019 and by the National League from 1934-2019. When the game resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-related cancellation in 2020, MLB had started a uniform contract with Nike and Fanatics, and All-Stars were outfitted in specially designed league uniforms that drew criticism from traditionalists.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

This year's AL uniforms had a sandy base with red sleeves and lettering and the NL had a navy base with light blue sleeves and lettering.

“I’m aware of the sentiment on this issue,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday. "I think where my head is on it, it’s something we’re going to have a conversation about coming out of the All-Star Game. We've got a lot of uniform things going on. And, obviously, the conversations have to involve the players first and foremost but Nike, some of our partners. But I am aware of the sentiment, and I do know why people kind of like that tradition."

MLB and Nike were criticized for club uniforms this year and said in May that 2025 club outfits will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization. Players complained this year that white pants worn by some teams are see-through enough to show tucked-in jersey tops.

Regional sports networks

Manfred said a national steaming package of local television broadcasts is a future possibility.

“I could see a situation where we grow into a 30-club model. It might start on the digital side, where you have 14 or 15 clubs, and, you start with a digital product there as your first alternative,” he said.

“I was in Sun Valley last week and I did the whole speed-dating thing with everybody who’s ever streamed anything. When you talk to people in the streaming business, they’re not really interested in buying the state of Wisconsin and two counties in Michigan," Manfred added. "They want to be able to stream quite frankly, all over the U.S. and Canada but more broadly internationally. So I think those conversations are a product of owners saying, holy cow, the RSN business is really deteriorating. We know the future’s going to be streaming. What we’re hearing from the streamers is they want a more national product, and we need to be responsive to what people want to buy.”

MLB took over production of Arizona and San Diego local television broadcasts last year following the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports’ Bally networks and said MLB will be available as an option for teams looking for new deals. He said Padres game are approaching 40,000 subscribers, which he called a good figure.

“Having said that, from a revenue perspective it is not generating what the RSNs did," Manfred said. "The RSNs were a great business. Lots of people paid for programing they didn’t necessarily want. And it’s hard to replicate that kind of revenue absent that kind of bundling concept.”

Offense

While offense is near half-century lows, it has picked up from early in the season.

“The decline in offense is something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and we’ll continue to monitor to make a decision as to whether we think we need to do something. You do hear a lot of chatter about the dominance of pitching in the game. That’s absolutely true.”

Birmingham

After the success of the June 20 game between San Francisco and St. Louis at Rickwood Field, Manfred said MLB will return to the ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama, but the “exact form” had not been determined.

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