SHOOTING BLANKS

Rockets offense stuggles becoming a serious issue

Mike D'Antoni and the Rockets are looking for answers. Harry How/Getty Images

Houston entered Thursday night’s contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder looking to even their record on the season and start fresh after a forgettable 1-5 start. A gutty effort on Monday against a Pacers team with a 7-3 record produced an impressive 98-94 win, and hinted that the Rockets had begun to recompose themselves after their rough start. Oklahoma City - sans their all-world guard Russell Westbrook - turned Houston away at the door, however, handed the Rockets a crushing defeat, 98-80, and left them with more questions than answers.

The loss against an undermanned Thunder team not only sets the Rockets back in the standings - something Houston can’t really afford to do much longer - it also casts serious doubt on the Rocket’s chances this season of returning to the Western Conference Finals. Patience was exercised to start the season as the Rockets dealt with health and suspension complications. Once the highly-touted Chris Paul/James Harden duo finally returned to the court together, the wins followed along and Houston strung together a three-game winning streak. Those expecting the high flying offense that was put on display last season, however, have been disappointed.

In a season punctuated by over-inflated point totals as a result of league-wide rule changes, the Rockets have failed to break the 100-point plateau in four of their past five matchups. After last night’s brick-fest, the Rockets’ offensive rating has dropped to 103.9, good for 26th in the league. Their true shooting percentage is 52.8, which is better than only the Pistons and the Magic. This is the offensive territory Houston currently resides in. Last season they finished No. 1 and 2 in those respective categories league-wide. The Rockets are reeling.

Houston has been known as the team that fires off more 3-pointers than any other team in the league. It’s a sound philosophy when it works and you have shooters knocking down their shots. So far this season, no one has consistently managed to do so. Chris Paul, who signed a four-year $160 million maximum contract in July, is shooting 27.1% from three-point range. Gerald Green, a career 35.9% sniper, has been even worse at 26.3%. You could argue that they’re missing Eric Gordon’s contributions while he recovers from injury, but that’s simply not the case. Before Gordon sat with a hip issue, he was even worse with 23.6% from three.  It’s not just one person slumping, it is a collective struggle.

If you’re looking for answers as to why the Rockets offense has become so lethargic, look no further than just beyond the arc. Houston is No. 1 in the league in 3-point attempts per game. They are 25th, however, in 3-point percentage. The Rockets have lost their shot at the moment, and that’s alarming.

I understand that it’s just one loss, but this isn’t about one game. It’s about the continuation of a season long inability to do the one thing the Rockets are known for, which is launch 3-pointers. Houston’s 11-of-42 night from beyond the arc last night showed that maybe the Rockets aren’t in fact back. Maybe this just isn’t a good enough team as built. If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if General Manager Daryl Morey starts finding new homes for players sooner than later. Houston is built to win, and win now. Right now nothing is going right, and the Rockets are running out of time to figure things out.




 

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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