The Rockets report

Rockets roll through an unbeaten week that includes easy wins over the Spurs and Cavs

Chris Paul had a nice game against the Cavs, Houston Rockets/Facebook

Well this certainly wasn’t the worst week to be a Rockets fan. While all eyes were focused on football’s ultimate conclusion, Houston overcame an early week hiccup in heroic fashion and stormed through the remainder of last week’s games. The Rockets have narrowed the gap in the western conference to two games behind the Golden State Warriors, while expanding their division lead to six games from the Spurs.

Game 49: Houston Rockets vs Orlando Magic (W, 114-107)

The Rockets played the Magic, and two things were assumed: The Rockets would swat the Magic, and there wouldn’t be much to talk about.

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

Houston tipped off without the services of Chris Paul or Trevor Ariza, and soon lost Eric Gordon to an in-game injury. As a result, scoring options were thin, and the game was tightly contested throughout. It would take a historic performance from James Harden to clinch the victory, and he provided just that with the NBA’s first-ever 60-point triple-double.

Harden’s 60-point triple-double was an absolute beauty to behold. Not only was it fascinating to watch the feat itself, but it was also remarkable considering the circumstances that forced the performance. The Rockets were without their second, third, and fourth best scoring options, so Harden did what the greats do: He put the team on his back, and smothered the Orlando Magic. Such a performance warrants a deeper investigation into the numbers, so I played around on Basketball-Reference.com’s stat finder page. Here’s what I’ve found:

46:26: The amount of time Harden was on the court. It was a career high for Harden, who only sat for 94 seconds in the game.

95: Amount of points scored or assisted on by Harden, good for second most all time (behind Wilt’s 100 point game). Harden is also responsible for three of the top five highest scoring outputs in NBA history.

5: Number of currently active players with 60-point games, including Harden after Tuesday’s performance (Devin Booker, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, and Klay Thompson).

9: Number of players who have scored at least 60 points and recorded a double-double. Harden extended the list that night. Wilt Chamberlain had seven. Harden’s is the only double-double achieved with double-digit assists.

8: Number of 50-point triple-doubles ever. Harden is responsible for 3 of them.

4: Number of games Harden has scored 50+ points this season alone. He has nine throughout his career, which is second most among active players (LeBron James has 11). The Rockets as a franchise have seen 17.

Game 50: Rockets at San Antonio (W, 102-91)

I had my hair cut on Thursday, and my barber is a Spurs fan. That being said, I typically wait until he’s done before we talk Rockets/Spurs so as to avoid any “accidental” slips of the clippers. While we may not root for one another’s team, we agreed that Rockets/Spurs games are typically great basketball. It certainly was last year during the regular season.

This year? Not so much.

Both games this season have been projected as tight contests, and both have been double-digit Houston victories.

Thursday the Rockets tipped off against San Antonio for round two this season and used their defense to put the Spurs away early with a 27-14 first quarter. Houston led by double-digits throughout most of the contest on their way to stretching their division lead to five games between the two clubs. Harden showed no signs of fatigue as he poured in 28 points and 11 assists, while Clint Capela controlled the paint with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Chris Paul was held to 10 points, and Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon both sat due to injuries.

Game 51: Rockets at Cleveland Cavaliers (W, 120-88)

So Thursday was a bit of a dud, but heading up to Cleveland to face LeBron James and company should prove a tougher test than the Spurs did, right?

Nope.

Rumors have swirled all season about the possibility of Houston becoming James’ next landing spot and Saturday night the Rockets stapled their resume in the middle of the court in the Quicken Loans Arena.

The Cavaliers never led, and at one point trailed by as much as 35 points. The score was so out of hand that James didn’t play in the fourth quarter. Cleveland fans booed their own team.

Paul led the way with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists. Ryan Anderson followed with 21 points, while Harden was held to a pedestrian 16 points on the night. No one on the Cavaliers scored more than 12 points.

Looking ahead:

The Rockets have a four game week ahead of them, with away games in Brooklyn and Miami on Tuesday and Wednesday, before returning home for a Friday matchup with the Denver Nuggets and a Sunday meeting with Dallas.

With the exception of the Heat, who are playing out of their collective minds this season, this might be one of the easiest weeks the Rockets have seen all season. Brooklyn sits 20 games back in their division, and lack any shred of competitiveness. Denver is a middle of the road team that could possibly take advantage of a tired team on Friday after the Rockets finish a back-to-back on the road, but Dallas should be an easy win. For the week I see Houston possibly dropping the Miami game on Wednesday because of fatigue, but finishing strong with at least three wins.

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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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