ON THE COURT

Rockets Report: Team goes 2-1, wraps up regular season this week

James Harden and Chris Paul are cruising to the playoffs. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This week was all about refocusing and staying sharp while the murky Western Conference playoff picture begins to clarify itself. Challenging three potentially playoff bound opponents this week, the Rockets chased the Wizards out of the building before weathering ferocious Portland rally and falling to a desperate Thunder team. Houston has already clinched the best record in the league and has secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in Rockets franchise history.

Game 78: Rockets vs Washington Wizards (W, 104-120)

One of the most telling marks of a serious contender is a team’s ability to quickly shake off a poor performance, and Tuesday night the Rockets did just that. Having clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Washington Wizards came into town hungry to improve their seeding but were very quickly turned away at the door by a Houston team that was once again back to full strength. Houston lunged out to what would prove to be an insurmountable 71-49 first half lead. The remainder of the matchup was equally contested, but the damage had already been done. James Harden finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. Clint Capela added 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

Game 79: Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers (W, 96-94)

The last matchup between the Rockets and Trail Blazers was everything you’d expect a one versus three seed to be in terms of competitiveness, so there was some anticipation surrounding this game as far as how the Rockets would perform given last week’s lackluster effort. A 36-17 first quarter quieted that narrative almost immediately, as Portland was simply unable to keep up with the barrage of three-pointers converted by a freneticaly paced Rockets squad. Houston maintained a sizeable lead until about five minutes left, when sloppy play on the Rockets end helped trigger a 19-2 run and erase the lead. Counter-intuitive to the Rockets’ typical philosophy, it was not a three point shot that sealed the game, but rather a Chris Paul dribble-drive layup to pierce through the perimeter-heavy defense with 0.8 seconds left. It was only the seventh game this season the Rockets failed to surpass the 100-point plateau, and Houston is 3-4 in those instances. Paul led the team with 27 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, while Harden followed with 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists.

Game 80: Rockets versus Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 108-102)

Houston’s luck would run out Saturday night against a hungry Thunder team that has yet to clinch a playoff spot in once of the tightest Western Conference races in recent memory. The matchup was a dogfight throughout, until the last few minutes when the Thunder went on an untimely 11-0 run to seal it, marking one of the few season series the Rockets have lost this year. Harden finished with 26 points and 9 assists.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets finish the season this week, with their final two games against the playoff eliminated Lakers and Kings squads in a Tuesday/Wednesday back-to-back away stretch. The Rockets should use these next two games to tune up their playoff roster and rest whoever necessary. These last two games mean nothing, as the Rockets have already clinched home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rockets are 2-1 against the Lakers this season and 2-0 against Sacramento, so it’s not a stretch to expect an undefeated final week en route to Houston’s first ever 66-win season.

 

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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