Rockets roll through another unbeaten week

Rockets roll through another unbeaten week
James Harden led the Rockets to a 4-0 week.

Four games last week, four more wins. The Rockets survived a tough test in Miami, and steamrolled through the other three matchups to extend their most recent winning streak to eight games. In addition, the rich got richer as Houston is expected to sign veteran guard Joe Johnson Monday after clearing waivers.

A recent “slump” by the Golden State Warriors (at least by Golden State’s current standards) has allowed the Rockets to close the gap to with a half game of the League/Conference lead. The Rockets’ division lead is beginning to resemble that of last year’s Astros, as they hold an 8 game lead over the Spurs.

Game 52: Rockets at Brooklyn Nets (W, 123-113)

Tuesday served as part one of back to back games and game three of the Rockets current four-game road trip. Trevor Ariza sat once again as Houston tipped off against the Nets in what looked on paper to be an easy Rockets win. Houston added to their tally as the highest scoring first quarter team in the league with a 38-point effort; however Brooklyn remained close after one quarter with 31 point of their own. Houston would lead throughout the remainder of the half, however - surprisingly enough - Brooklyn’s own three-point barrage would enable them to seize the lead toward the middle of the third.

That was all that James Harden and Chris Paul needed to see.

Behind the two superstars, Houston kicked on the afterburners and left the Nets behind for a double digit victory. In addition to 36 points and 5 assists, Harden also surpassed 15,000 career points that evening. Paul finished with 25 points and 5 assists, while Clint Capela added 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Game 53: Rockets at Miami Heat (W, 109-101)

It was “Vice night” in Miami, and the pesky team looked all the part in their fluorescent alternate jerseys. It was also game two of back-to-back games, in which the Rockets made it to their hotel at 3:45 a.m. the night before. If there was ever a game to drop, it would be one with an exhausted team against a staunch defensive squad such as the Heat, all while missing Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon.

Winning games like these, however, make statements.

Houston once again jumped out to a quick lead with a 35-24 first quarter, and went on to dominate the first half while leading by as much as 17 at one point. The third quarter was shades of the night before, however, as the Heat closed the gap and traded leads with the Rockets. It would be Harden, once again, with some late game heroics -- this time in the form of back to back 3-pointers -- to seal the hard fought victory, complete the road sweep, and extend the Rockets’ current winning streak to six. Harden continued his recent streak of unreal performances, this time to the tune of 41 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Paul added 25 points and 7 assists.

Game 54: Rockets vs Denver Nuggets (W, 130-104)

The media tries their best to make every game seem intriguing. As if both teams really do have a chance at winning. Sometimes, however, that’s just not the case. Friday night was one of those times, as the Rockets completely housed the Nuggets behind a career night for Clint Capela.

James Harden produced a quiet team-leading 28 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds, while the entire focus centered (pun intended) on Capela, who finished with 23 points and a career high 25 rebounds in three quarters of basketball. Capela became the second youngest Rocket to record a 23 point, 25 rebound game, and I’m sure you can guess who was the youngest (hint: his last name rhymes with...smolajuwon). The Rockets led by as much as 35 at one point, and the entire fourth quarter was essentially a bench showcase.

Game 55: Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks (W, 104-97)

Sunday’s 6 p.m. tip-off was the epitome of a trap-game: playing a sub-par team (with a terrible, terrible alternate jersey) right after an impressive blowout, but just before an important matchup.

It was a lazy, sloppy affair from the Rockets end, and the lack of respect for the Mavericks was apparent throughout. Lazy and sloppy, it turns out, was more than enough for Houston to power past Dallas, and although the final score suggests a close game, it was far from it. The Rockets essentially toyed with them throughout, and finally KO-ed the Mavericks in the fourth. Harden finished with 27 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds, and Chris Paul was absolutely disrespectful on his way to 25 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. Capela added 16 points, and 11 rebound as well.

Looking ahead:

This week the Rockets get two looks at the Timberwolves, as well as contests against the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets once again.

Houston handled the Timberwolves in their first meeting with surprising ease, however Minnesota remains the fourth best team in the Western Conference for a reason. I can’t imagine winning both games against their squad this week, however the Kings and Nuggets matchups should be cake walks. I expect at worst a 3-1 week.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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