Rockets keep acing every test, roll through another unbeaten week

James Harden and the Rockets continue to roll. Kevin C. Cox

A week after watching the longest winning streak of the season come to an end, the Rockets showed zero cause for concern as they racked up another four wins against four playoff contenders on their way to closing out one of the best seasons in franchise history. Houston maintains the best record in the NBA, and have since increased their grasp on the number one seed in the western conference to three games. The Rockets also clinched the Southwest Division and have already surpassed last season’s win total.

Game 67: Rockets at San Antonio Spurs (W, 109-93)

The Rockets took on the Spurs Monday for the third time this season. The previous three matchups had all resulted in blowout Rocket victories, so the odds weren’t exactly in the Spurs favor to begin with. When it was announced prior to tip-off that San Antonio would be taking the court without Lamarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili, their chances looked even more bleak. A 19-4 run out of the gate by the Rockets confirmed that theory.

After the Spurs first score, the Rockets never trailed in the game. A comfortable lead ballooned even further after a third quarter run, and the Rockets left San Antonio with an easy victory. James Harden shook off a slow start to lead the team with 28 points. Chris Paul added 18 points as well as 9 assists.

Game 68: Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers (W, 101-96)

If you were expecting past experience to predict future performance, you would have been very surprised at the game. The Rockets summarily dismantled the Clippers in their last matchup, and Rockets fans were ready to watch a repeat performance on their home court Thursday.

They did not get what they wanted.

What they did get was a highly competitive, very chippy game that wasn’t decided until the very last minute. A back and forth first half gave way to the first sustained lead in the third by the Clippers. Halfway through, though, the Rockets would storm back to keep the game close, and in the end James Harden would seal the victory with a step back jump shot over Austin Rivers late in the fourth. Harden would finish with 24 points. Eric Gordon went 7-of-9 from three, finishing with 23 points.

Game 69: Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans (W, 107-101)

In their third matchup this season, the Rockets headed to The Big Easy for a rubber game against a Pelicans team that has proven to be a difficult out for Houston this season. Sunday’s game was no different.

In what has seemed to be a noticeable pattern this season, the Rockets started slow, but were propelled to a victory behind a second half offensive explosion. Leading 60-54 at the half, Houston stormed out of the gates in the third, pushing their lead to as high as 20 points. The Pelicans would chip away at the lead, but the advantage the Rockets had already established proved to be too much. Harden led the Rockets with 32 points and 11 rebounds, while Chris Paul added 21.

Game 70: Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves (W, 129-120)

The second game of back-to-backs are always a cause for concern, but this season the Rockets have seemed to be unphased by much of anything. Sunday night was more of the same as Houston took control early and rode yet another massive lead into a victory. Minnesota would stage a late game comeback, but would ultimately fail. Houston led by as much as 25 before the rally, and with the game as close as five in the closing minutes the Rockets executed clutch shots to secure the win, which surpassed last season’s win total. Harden lead once again with 34 points and 12 assists. Chris Paul followed with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists. Clint Capela added 16 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Looking ahead

The Rockets are back in action this Tuesday against a red-hot Portland team, followed by a home matchup Thursday against the Detroit Pistons. The end of the week will see Houston taking on New Orleans at home for the last time this season on Saturday, followed by a Sunday home game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Portland is currently riding a 13-game win streak, but have yet to take either of the two matchups against Houston this season. More than likely this matchup will be decided in the paint, and while the Rockets have won inside during the first two matchups, they also haven't played a Trail Blazers team with Myers Leonard and Jusuf Nurkic at full strength.

Thursday’s game against Detroit will be the second and final matchup between the two teams. Detroit took the first game of the regular season series even with star center Andre Drummond sidelined with injury. Since then, the Pistons traded for Clippers big man Blake Griffin. However they’ve gone 1-4 in their last five games.

New Orleans is currently scraping and clawing for a playoff spot in the log-jam at the bottom of the western conference, and every matchup this season with the Rockets has been a dogfight. An increased sense of urgency as the season draws to a close could be problematic for Houston next Saturday night.

Atlanta travels to Houston Sunday night to close out the season series, and little evidence exists that this will be a competitive contest. Expect the Rockets to cruise through this matchup.

While another undefeated week is entirely possible, it is not forecast with as much confidence as last week. Portland will be this week’s toughest test, followed by New Orleans, Detroit, and Atlanta. At the absolute worst, I see a 2-2 week.

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Houston loses to end the road trip

Dodgers get best of Odorizzi to split series with Astros

Jake Odorizzi allowed four home runs over three innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After spoiling the night of many Dodgers fans in the opener of this two-game series in Los Angeles the night prior, the Astros returned to the stadium to a fresh set of hostile fans, looking to get the mini-sweep. This one went much more in favor of the home team, though, as the Dodgers would ride three big innings to start the game to the win for the series split.

Final Score: Dodgers 7, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 65-43, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Max Scherzer (9-4)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-6)

Odorizzi gets shelled

After a Michael Brantley solo home in the top of the first run against Max Scherzer, making his Dodger debut, it looked like the Astros may continue their momentum from the night before to grab hold of this game as well. However, that all changed in the bottom of the inning, as the Dodgers would tee off against Jake Odorizzi.

In that inning, he allowed four runs, a leadoff solo shot by Mookie Betts, then later a three-run blast by Will Smith. Betts made it 2-for-2 with solo homers in the bottom of the second, extending the lead to 5-1. Things went from bad to worse in the third, with Los Angeles getting their fourth home run, this one for two runs to make it a 7-1 game. Odorizzi would finish the third but go no further.

Scherzer K's 10 over seven innings in his Dodger debut

Houston tried to start clawing back into it in the top of the fourth, getting a second run against Scherzer with a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, trimming the lead to five runs at 5-2. First out of Houston's bullpen was Yimi Garcia in the bottom of the fourth, and he tossed the first 1-2-3 inning for Houston. Rafael Montero was next in the bottom of the fifth, working around a leadoff double followed by a walk for a scoreless inning.

Montero remained in the game in the bottom of the sixth, still 7-2, and would get another scoreless inning, this time sitting down the Dodgers in order. Scherzer finished his quality debut for his new team in the top of the seventh, erasing a leadoff walk to complete seven innings while allowing two runs.

Astros lose to split the series with Dodgers

Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he, too, would get through a scoreless inning by erasing a two-out single. In the game-within-the-game, the Dodgers brought in Joe Kelly for the top of the eighth, who notched two strikeouts to bring none other than Carlos Correa to the plate, setting up a rematch of the well-known incident that led to the "pouty face" clip from 2020. Carlos Correa won this round, launching a 405-foot homer off of Kelly to make it a four-run game at 7-3.

Phil Maton kept the score there, stranding two runners in the bottom of the eighth to send the 7-3 game to the top of the ninth, where the Dodgers would bring in Kenley Jansen. After a leadoff single, Kyle Tucker would get the Astros within two runs on a two-run homer, making it 7-5. That's as close as they would get, as Jansen would regroup to get the next three batters out to wrap up the loss for Houston.

Up Next: With this road trip completed, the Astros will have a quick turnaround as they catch a late flight back to Houston then turn around with a game Thursday at 7:10 PM Central to open a four-game series with the Twins. Framber Valdez (7-2, 3.01 ERA) will take the mound for Houston in the opener, while Minnesota will counter with Griffin Jax (1-1, 6.41 ERA).

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