WEEK IN REVIEW

Rockets keep rolling along with three more wins

Eric Gordon continues to fill in well for the injured Chris Paul. NBA photos

Last week I had an epiphany. I was at the bar eating lunch and watching the Texans attempt to emulate a football team. I was discussing just how wretched the game was with my buddy, when it hit me:

I don't have to watch this. I should stop watching this.

And we did. I finished lunch and we immediately closed out toward the beginning of the third quarter.

Weekend 1 of no NFL has been nice. Freeing, even. Now that I no longer feel obligated to watch nine hours of football, I've been able to do other things like, oh I don't know, write about the Rockets.

And that's a way better topic because the Rockets are absolutely crushing teams right now. They have one of the best records in the league and James Harden looks like the early frontrunner for a player of the month award.

Add their success to my lingering World Series buzz and the impressive playoff run the Dynamo are stringing together, and it's easy to understand why it feels good to be a sports fan in Houston right now.

That is, unless you only watch the Texans. If that describes you, well, stay strong I guess. I'll be sure to keep you updated on my awesome Texans free Sundays from here on out.

Game Twelve: Rockets vs Cleveland Cavaliers (W, 117-113)

Thursday’s matchup between two of the biggest stars in the league certainly lived up to its nationally televised billing. Any team with LeBron James on it is going to be tough to put away, and this meeting was proof. The Rockets jumped out to an 11 point lead after James took a seat, and ballooned up to 15 behind a few consecutive deep Eric Gordon 3 pointers. James immediately returned, and by the end of the half the Cavs had tied the game behind the efforts of James himself and a surprising performance from journeyman Jeff Green. The Rockets received key contributions to close out the game from Clint Capela (19 points, 13 rebounds) and P.J. Tucker. Harden finished with a triple-double (35 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) and Gordon chipped in 20 point as well.

Game Thirteen: Rockets vs Memphis Grizzlies (W, 111-96)

Looking to avenge their 0-2 start vs the Grizzlies, the Rockets jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead and never trailed Saturday night. It was all Rockets, who dominated both sides of the ball on the way to tallying 14 steals on defense while finally crossing the 100-point mark against a team that has posed an early season challenge for them. Harden posted his fouthth 30-point game (38 points) in his last five outings, and Gordon went 6-11 from beyond the arc on the way to a 26 point outing.

Game Fourteen: Rockets at Indianapolis Pacers (W, 118-95)

Sunday evening the Rockets traveled up to Indianapolis and steamrolled the Pacers for their sixth straight win. Ignited by Harden’s career high nine assists in the first quarter, the Rockets never trailed for the second game in a row. Harden would finish with 26 points and 15 assists. Gordon chipped in 21 points and Clint Capela continued his great start to the season by adding 20 points and 17 rebounds.

Takeaways:

  • Clint Capela is operating on a completely different level this season. He’s fourth in the league in rebounds, third in blocks, and first in field goal percentage. He’s also firing 70% from the charity stripe, up from 50% last season.

  • Harden is currently leading the league in points, assists, and free throw attempts. Granted it’s way too early to speculate, but at the moment Harden looks like he’s going to be staging another strong campaign for league MVP.

  • They’re playing angry. Following the Rockets’ last loss, they’ve blown out almost every team during their current six game win streak by an average point differential of 17.6 points per game.

Rockets Player of the Week (not named James Harden):

Eric Gordon. He’s certainly picking up the slack in Chris Paul’s absence and has posted four straight 20-point games, all while shooting 43% from beyond the arc.

Looking Ahead:

This week the Rockets will get their first looks at Toronto and Phoenix this season before taking on, you guessed it, Memphis yet again. Toronto has looked good to start the season, so this could be a good test at home for the Rockets. Phoenix is terrible, so a win should be expected there. Finally, on Saturday the Rockets will look to even the season series with the Grizzlies, who lead it 2-1. I expect no more than one loss this upcoming week.

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Yordan Alvarez came up big in Game 5. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros can win the pennant Friday night. Can't dangle the carrot any closer in front of the face than that. Taking the last two games at Fenway Park has the Astros in excellent position, but any notion that a third American League championship in five years is now inevitable, is silly. The Astros are probably 80 percent or better to advance, but of course the Red Sox could win games six and seven at Minute Maid Park à la the Nationals in the World Series two years ago. The Astros had all the momentum after winning three straight in D.C., came home for the coronation, and pfffft. You have momentum...until you don't. It's nothing to bank on. The Red Sox had all the "mo" after clobbering the Astros in games two and three of this AL championship series. Then Jose Altuve crushed the eighth inning tying home run in game four, ahead of the seven run volcanic eruption of a ninth inning. Nine more Astro runs later in game five, and here we are.

One key distinction that makes the Astros hand look stronger up 3-2 now than vs. the Nats, the Red Sox don't have Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer ready to pitch. Like Framber Valdez vs. Chris Sale in game five, game six is another starting pitching rematch. Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi grossly outpitched Luis Garcia in game two. We'll see if Sox manager Alex Cora winds up regretting even more using Eovaldi to start the fateful game four ninth inning. Eovaldi only threw 24 pitches, but three nights later we'll see what and how much he has in the tank.

After pitching horribly against the White Sox and then the Red Sox, and then citing a sore knee, Luis Garcia is his own huge question mark. So was Valdez before Wednesday spinning one of the great postseason pitching performances in Astros' history. Framber was awful in each of his first two postseason starts, absolutely magnificent in cruising through eight innings in game five. Should the Sox force Game Seven, Valdez certainly is a relief option on two days rest. Jose Urquidy would start, opposite Eduardo Rodriguez in a game three rematch.

Valdez and the Astros hope his next outing is Tuesday night in game one of the World Series. Ideally, at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. Alas, the defending champion Dodgers remain alive and kicking, having won their fourth do or die game already in this postseason to send the National League Championship Series back to Atlanta. Now, if somehow we knew as fact that the Astros are going to win the World Series, I'd estimate approximately 99 percent of Astros' fans would prefer to beat L.A. Since we don't know that the Astros are going to win it all, getting the Braves would be more favorable for the Astros, if for no other reason than the Astros would get home-field advantage. Should the Braves make it, among other factoids Charlie Morton would be in his third World Series with three different teams in the last five seasons (Astros in 2017, Rays last year, Braves this). If the Braves can close out the Dodgers Saturday, Morton is Atlanta's likely game one starter at MMP. Provided the Astros are the AL Champs of course.

Watt a matchup for the Texans

The Texans play at Arizona Sunday. Yeah, and? You imagine that J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins find the two team's current situations amusing? The Texans are a 1-5 stink bomb that will keep on stinking. The Cardinals are 6-0 and an emerging Super Bowl contender. While Deshaun Watson continues collecting about 600 thousand dollars per week to do nothing (and waiting to become a Miami Dolphin?), Kyler Murray has made the leap to upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Decisions, decisions. Astros-Red Sox game 6 or Rockets home opener vs. Thunder. Tough call?

2. The Rockets will regularly be overmatched and probably lose 55 games or more again this season. At least they have young talent to offer some hope. The Texans presently have near nothing.

3. Best 2021 Astros' postseason journey signature food: Bronze-Atlanta/Los Angeles, anything? Silver-Chicago, deep dish pizza Gold-Boston, lobster roll

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