Trusting old reliable

Rockets not concerned about James Harden's shooting struggles

James Harden.

When players were giving their standard post game interviews after the Rockets lost to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, word quickly spread that James Harden had gone back onto the main floor to get some shots up. Harden shot 1 for 17 from three-point range and has generally been in a funk for the month of January (35.8% shooting from the field and 26.2% shooting from beyond the arc). When the Rockets needed Harden's signature step-back threes the most in the closing quarter, his shot eluded him and he spent a total of 25 minutes working to recapture that rhythm post-game.

"Just getting back to the basics," explained Harden that night. "When you're struggling, you try to get back to the fundamentals and the basics of your shot form."

One could make a reasonable argument that Harden' shouldn't have taken as many threes that night once he realized he was off. It seems like a basic principal, but the Rockets have lived off of Harden making those difficult threes in tough moments more times than they can count over the past few years. For the Rockets, a team that's crafted their entire offensive identity on Harden going one-on-one an hitting tough, contested jumpers, it's easier said than done.

"You can tell him not to do it, but we've won a lot of games [that way]," said Mike D'Antoni postgame. "That's his game and you kind of live and die with what you got."

D'Antoni will get criticized (and has) for this statement, but until you put yourself in his shoes, it's tough to say he's wrong here. The Rockets have won nearly 200 basketball games with D'Antoni at the helm and most of those wins are directly attributable to Harden hitting tough shots. When you have that kind of success, how do you then go and tell your star player to go away from his bread and butter, even if he's struggling? History has shown it's a winning formula.

"Realistically, he's going to get out of it," said D'Antoni at practice Tuesday. "You don't overreact to it. You don't tell him 'Hey, don't shoot that because you did for three and a half straight years and you won us an average of 58 games a year. Don't do that.' Well, that's crazy."

James Harden is a career 36.4% three-point shooter. He's going to have hot stretches and cold stretches, but in the end, he'll always find himself around that mark (36.1% this season). What stretch you get may just be a matter of luck and the Rockets know that it's something they can't control. If Harden elected to stop shooting, for better or for worse, he wouldn't be the player he is. Part of what makes Harden great is his unabashed confidence to take and make tough jumpers even when he's struggling.

"Those are like regular shots for me," said Harden. "That's what I work on everyday."

Harden's struggles certainly don't help the Rockets, but neither does giving away 41 points in a closing quarter or Houston's horrid transition defense that lose them a game to Memphis the week prior. Houston has a stretch of problems they need to work out before they arrive at Harden's shot selection.

"That's beside the point," said D'Antoni. "Do we switch? Do we get back? Do we talk [on defense]? Do we communicate? Are we tough as a group? Do we overcome problems? That's what we have to focus on [as a team]. Don't focus on the stuff that's frivolous."

And that has been the center of Houston's focus. The Rockets spent an hour watching film of their fourth quarter defensive mishaps from the game against Oklahoma City before speaking to the media. They believe those issues take priority over anything the team is not doing offensively right now.

"Obviously I want to make every shot that I shoot," said Harden. "It doesn't happen. The more you work, the more confidence you have in yourself to be able to keep shooting those shots and doing what you do."

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Houston is back in the win column

McCullers Jr. spins a gem as Astros get a much-needed win over Giants

Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

After getting swept by the A's in Oakland to end a road trip with a five-game losing streak, the Astros returned to Houston to try and get back on track. To do so, they'd need a win against the Giants on Monday night. Here is a quick recap of the series opener:

Final Score: Astros 6, Giants 4.

Record: 7-9, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 6.10 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Logan Webb (1-1, 2.81 ERA).

Houston builds up an early lead

The early goings of Monday's game went very similar to the last time Lance McCullers Jr. took the mound. He would have a terrific first three innings while his offense gave him an early lead. The first run came in the bottom of the second, with Yuli Gurriel reaching base on a one-out double, moving to third on a wild pitch, then scoring on an RBI-single by Carlos Correa.

Correa would take part in a four-run inning in the third, as Houston would score two on a two-RBI ground-rule double by Michael Brantley, another on an error, then Correa's second RBI of the night, a groundout to bring in a run and make it 5-0. Unlike the last start in Arizona, where the roof opened and McCullers Jr. fell apart in the fourth, he was able to make quick work of his opponent for a 1-2-3 frame. As he kept recording scoreless innings, Martin Maldonado added another run to the lead with a one-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, making it 6-0.

McCullers Jr. takes a no-hitter into the seventh

While the Astros were building their lead, McCullers Jr. was spinning a gem on the mound. He allowed just one baserunner through the first six innings, which came on a hit-by-pitch. He entered the seventh with a no-hitter in progress, but the Giants would get their first hit of the night to end the no-hit bid.

Regardless, the start was precisely what McCullers Jr. needed to restore his confidence after the disastrous inning he had in his last appearance. He would go on to complete the seventh inning before Houston would go to the bullpen with the large lead in the eighth. His final line: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K 0 HR, 1 HPB.

Houston gets back in the win column despite more struggles by Josh James

Josh James entered out of the bullpen for the top of the eighth but allowed the first run of the night for San Francisco via a solo home run with one out to make it 6-1. He would complete the inning and then return for the top of the ninth. He would have another rocky inning, issuing a leadoff walk before a single and double would make it a four-run game at 6-2, still with no outs in the inning and runners on second and third, prompting another call to the bullpen.

Dusty Baker would bring in his current closer, Ryan Pressly, to try and finish the game, now in a save situation. Pressly would retire the first two batters he faced before allowing a two-RBI single to make it 6-4, but would eventually get the final out to get Houston the much-needed win. With the victory, the Astros moved back into second place in the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Tuesday at 8:10 PM Central. The Giants, working with a fluid rotation, have not yet fully decided on their starter, while the Astros will get another start from Brandon Bielak (2-0, 0.87 ERA) who will look to repeat the success of his five-inning, no-run start in Arizona last week.

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