Harden and company need help for another long playoff run

Rockets on Texans path this season

P.J. Tucker is a key member of the Rockets. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rockets have been on quite a roll lately after starting the season underachieving. Their best player has been out of this world as they have strung together a couple solid winning streaks and have climbed out of the cellar, straight into first place in their division. Sound familiar Texans fans? The point is, your basketball team is on the same path as your favorite football team and, spoiler alert, it doesn't have a happy ending.

As we all know by now, the Texans ran off nine straight wins after starting 0-3 to become the first team since 1998 to make the playoffs after starting the year with three straight defeats. They ended up winning the division as an added bonus, but were quickly bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. The team was just good enough to capitalize on a weak schedule and some opponent miscues along the way to turn around their regular season and trick the sports world into believing they were a possible playoff contender. Unfortunately the post season proved to be their truth serum as their weaknesses were exposed and their best players were unable to carry the load, pick up the slack and get them to the promised land. Watson, Watt and company will get plenty of awards and recognition for the great year that they had, but the lack of a complete team made for an end to the season that turned out to be quite sad.

The Rockets have been playing great basketball for the last month and have gone from the second worst record in the Western Conference to a solid playoff team only one game out of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. James Harden has been on another planet as he has become the leading candidate to win a second consecutive league MVP, while single-handedly carrying his squad night after night with record-breaking stat lines. Harden broke the Rockets record for most 40 point games in a season, including 5 games in a row, and he tied Kobe Bryant for the NBA record for consecutive 30+ point games at 16, after scoring 38 in a loss last night to the Magic. He has done most of the heavy lifting while Chris Paul rehabs another hamstring injury and Eric Gordon rests a knee issue, but how long can he keep it up? A better question might be, even when Gordon and Paul come back, do they have enough firepower to make another run to the Western Conference Finals?

If you answered my last question "no" then you better hope Daryl Morey dives deep into his contact list and starts looking at ways to fill out his rotation and roster and make this team better before it's too late. The main difference between this year and other years, is that the Rockets don't have a surplus of talent on the team that they can afford to part with in order to improve and upgrade the roster. Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker have the most value around the league but the team can ill afford to part ways with either, as they both have stepped u their game and proved to be irreplaceable to Mike D'Antoni and his staff. Gordon has been up and down, but he is better than anyone else they have when it comes to scoring, shooting, defense and versatility. If Morey was to trade Gordon in a package, he would have to get back a Gordon-like player and more to make the trade worthwhile. His latest injury and struggles from the floor this season has made that possibility less and less likely. Tucker on the other hand has become more and more valuable on both ends of the floor and in the lockeroom, to the point that he has become untouchable. The fact that he has been friends with Chris Paul since childhood and is one of Harden's best friends on the squad only adds to the chances that he will remain a member of Red Nation for the rest of the season and beyond. So, if a trade doesn't seem to hold the answers to improving this year's team, what other types of moves could be the boost the squad needs?

The moves that have produced the best return on investment this year have been the savvy free agent pickups like Danuel House Jr. and Austin Rivers. The two have fit right in from the first day and played a style that makes it easy for D' Antoni to trust them and insert them right in the rotation and eventually the starting lineup. I really think the best chance for Houston to catch lightning in a bottle and find a player or two that may be able to strengthen the team by adding depth and talent, is by keeping an eye on the waver wire and potential buyouts of veteran players who are set free to give younger talent a chance to play. Tyson Chandler is a perfect example. He was released by the Suns after negotiating a financial settlement and was picked up by the Lakers to add leadership and depth to their front court. He has been huge for LeBron and company since he joined the Lake Show. Rivers has done similar things for Houston and so has House. Maybe a few more opportunities turning other teams' trash into H-town treasures is the way to go in getting this team Warriors ready and stocked for another run? Let's hope so, otherwise it may be an end to the season eerily similar to the one suffered by the football team down on Kirby just over a week ago.

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McCullers Jr. had nine strikeouts over four

McCullers Jr. looks sharp in tune-up before Rangers overpower Houston's bullpen

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite watching their chance to clinch their playoff spot on the field slip away in the walk-off loss on Friday, the Astros benefited from a loss by the Angels later in the night, securing their playoff berth. That meant they could play conservatively in the final two games of the season against the Rangers in Arlington. Here's a quick rundown of Saturday's matchup:

Final Score: Rangers 6, Astros 1.

Record: 29-30, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Jimmy Herget (1-0, 3.20 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Brandon Bielak (3-3, 6.75 ERA).

McCullers Jr. looks playoff-ready 

With nothing substantial to play for, the Astros did not expect to ask Lance McCullers Jr. to go deep into Saturday's game, instead giving him a few innings for a tune-up before assuming whatever role he would play in the post-season. He looked impressive, a promising sign after his injury stint and struggles on the road at points this season.

He finished four innings, during which he racked up a season-high nine strikeouts while giving up no runs on just two hits, both singles, and two walks. His final line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 61 P.

Both teams trade runs as  they go to their bullpens

Meanwhile, neither team was getting much going at the plate in the early goings, keeping it a scoreless game through the first five. Brandon Bielak took over for McCullers Jr. starting in the fifth but would allow the first run of the night in the bottom of the sixth as the Rangers would get three singles to take a 1-0 lead.

After Kyle Gibson held the Astros at bay for six innings, Houston would get on the board against Texas' bullpen, getting a leadoff double by Aledmyz Diaz in the top of the seventh. Diaz moved to third on a sac bunt, then scored on a sac fly by Jack Mayfield, making it 1-1.

Rangers blow it open in the seventh

The tie didn't last long, as Bielak would put two on base in the bottom of the seventh before giving up a three-run homer to make it a 4-1 Rangers lead. Andre Scrubb was next out of Houston's bullpen and allowed a solo home run on his first pitch. Scrubb would complete the inning, but not before allowing another run on three singles to push Texas' lead to 6-1.

Cy Sneed was next out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth and tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Houston would not make the unlikely comeback in the top of the ninth, with the Rangers taking the game 6-1.

Up Next: The last game of the Astros' 2020 regular season will be Sunday at 2:05 PM Central, as are most other games on the MLB slate on the league's final regular-season day. Houston's starter is TBD as they will continue to preserve their arms for the best-of-three first round that starts on Tuesday, while Texas will send Jordan Lyles (1-6, 7.08 ERA) to the mound.

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