ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets keep streak going out of the break, but tougher tasks loom ahead

Chris Paul and James Harden are looking ahead to a tough week. Houston Rockets/Facebook

James Harden was the only Rocket to play three games last week, one of which with Team Stephen at the NBA All-Star Game. Harden casually flirted with a triple-double out in L.A., finishing with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists in a three-point defeat that means absolutely nothing.

Later in the Week, the Rockets got back to business.

Picking right where they left off with their 10-game win streak, Houston added two more wins on Friday and Sunday against the Timberwolves and Nuggets, respectively. The Rockets maintain the best record in the league, with a half game lead on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. Sporting an 11-game lead, the Southwest Division is all but locked up at this point.

Game 58: Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (W, 120-102)

Every time I see the Timberwolves matchup, I assume that it’s going to be a great game because they are the fourth seed in the Western Conference, they sport the seventh best record in the league and I personally enjoy watching Karl Anthony-Towns do Karl Anthony-Towns things.

Every time, however, I have been wrong. It just goes to prove how much of a drop off in talent there is between Houston, Golden State, and everyone else in the Western Conference.

Each of the three meetings against the Timberwolves have resulted in three 18-point victories. This one provided at least a little first-half intrigue, but as most matchups with Houston go, the second half was a blowout. Harden was his usual self, adding a pedestrian 31 points and 9 assists, while Clint Capela showed flashes of his burgeoning offensive ability to the tune of 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Game 59: Rockets at Denver Nuggets (W, 119-114)

This week was sort of a mix up for me. I assumed Minnesota would be the must-watch game, while the Denver matchup would be a snoozer.

Nope.

Denver overcame an 18-point deficit, and a furious fourth quarter rally cut the Rockets lead to as little as 4. That’s when--once again--the ball was placed in the hands of Chris Paul and Harden, who tag-teamed the door slamming on the Nuggets' hopes of victory. Paul nailed a clutch fade away mid range shot, followed on the next Houston possession by some Harden cooking and his patented step back jumper to essentially seal it with 46 seconds left.

A five point victory has been quite counter to the norm throughout this current winning streak, as the Rockets have defeated those teams by and average of 12.5 points. A tough game seemed almost necessary.

Looking ahead

Don’t expect this streak to get too crazy, because the back end of the Rockets’ schedule gets a little hairy starting this week. Tonight the Rockets play a hungry Jazz team during the second half of an away back-to-back. Utah has won 12 of its past 13 games. Following that, Houston heads out to L.A. to try and claim some revenge (preferably on-court this time) against a new-look Clippers team, and Saturday they finish the week at home looking to even the season series against Boston.

Utah looks like a possible trap game, so don’t sleep on them tonight. The Clippers aren't exactly at full strength, and I expect the Rockets to take out a lot of frustration on them Wednesday. Saturday’s game against the Celtics is practically must-watch, which is why it’s being aired nationally. Consider it a potential dark-horse Finals matchup, and I think the Rockets even things up with Boston before heading into next week.

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Houston stays hot at the plate

Astros overpower White Sox in series opener

Abraham Toro made a loud return to the Astros' lineup on Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a two-game sweep of the struggling Rangers behind them, the Astros welcomed in a much fiercer opponent in the Chicago White Sox, owners of the best record in the AL, for an exciting four-game set. It was all Astros in this one, as their offense would once again propel them to a lopsided win.

Final Score: Astros 10, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 40-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dylan Cease (5-3)

Houston builds a big lead

Houston wasted no time in the bottom of the first, getting two on base on a single and an error to set up a three-run home run for Michael Brantley, putting them ahead 3-0 before Chicago and Dylan Cease could record an out. They extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth, putting two on base on a walk and hit batter before an RBI ground-rule double by Carlos Correa brought in one. That left runners on second and third, and Abraham Toro took advantage by scoring both on a two-RBI single, then with one out, Jose Altuve hit a sac fly to make it a 7-0 lead.

Urquidy brings the good stuff

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was cruising through Chicago's lineup. He allowed just one hit through the first five scoreless innings but would let the White sox get on the board in the top of the sixth after a leadoff double and two-out RBI single. They added one more on another single, making it 7-2 before Urquidy could get out of the inning.

Jose Altuve got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, hitting his fourth home run in three games to make it a six-run game at 8-2. Urquidy returned to the mound in the top of the seventh, getting a quick 1-2-3 frame to end his successful night. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 93 P.

Astros take the opener

In the bottom of the seventh, Houston pushed the lead to eight runs with a leadoff single, setting up a two-out two-run homer by Toro, bringing him to four RBI on the night. With Urquidy's night over, Brandon Bielak came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen, sitting down Chicago in order. Ralph Garza Jr. came in to get an inning of work to finish off the game with Houston's large lead. He made it a quick one, with Chicago going down in order one more time as the Astros took the opener and notched their fourth-straight win.

Up Next: Game two of this entertaining series will be another 7:10 PM Central Start on Friday. Carlos Rodon (6-2, 1.89 ERA) will try to help Chicago even the series, while Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.98 ERA) will try to put Houston up 2-0.

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