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's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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