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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Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After dropping the middle game to the Rangers to split the first two games, the Astros looked for an improved offensive showing in the finale on Thursday night to take the series. Here is a rundown of the rubber game:

Final Score: Astros 2, Rangers 1.

Record: 25-25, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07 ERA).

Valdez another Houston pitcher to thrive against Rangers

Much like Jose Urquidy on Tuesday and Lance McCullers JR. on Wednesday, Framber Valdez put up an excellent pitching line on Thursday against the Rangers. After allowing two singles in the first and a single in the second, he would settle in and hold the Rangers to just one baserunner, which came via a walk through six frames.

He would try to get through the seventh, but after a long at-bat and one-out double, Dusty Baker would stop his night and go to the bullpen. Unfortunately, that double would end up scoring as Josh James would allow an RBI-single, charged to Valdez, before finishing the inning. Along the way, Valdez was able to ring up eleven Rangers. His final line: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 0 HR, 100 P.

Kyle Tucker gets the big hit of the night

Luckily, Houston was still in the lead after the Rangers' run, thanks to a big hit by Kyle Tucker back in the second inning. After Alex Bregman reached base on a walk to become the first runner for the Astros, Kyle Tucker would break out of his recent slump with a two-run home run, putting Houston ahead 2-0 at the time.

Jordan Lyles was otherwise handling the Astros just like Kyle Gibson the night prior, who threw a complete-game shutout. Other than the Tucker homer, Lyles allowed another hit in the second and one in the third before retiring the next 12 Astros in order before an error in the seventh broke that streak, giving Houston their first baserunner since two outs in the third.

Houston takes the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James returned to the mound to start the eighth, and he would get a 1-2-3 inning against the top of Texas' lineup, including back-to-back strikeouts to end it. After another scoreless inning by Houston at the plate, that would set up a save opportunity in the top of the ninth. The opportunity would go to Brooks Raley, and he would notch the save with a scoreless inning, giving Houston the series and moving them back up to .500 at 25-25.

Up Next: The Astros' final three regular-season games played at Minute Maid Park in 2020 are this weekend in a series against the Diamondbacks. In Friday's 7:10 PM opener, Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.77 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston while Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.15 ERA) will be the starter for Arizona.

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