THE ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets show what they can be with a healthy lineup, but depth remains a concern

A healthy Chris Paul makes a big difference. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Week seven of the Houston Rockets season taught us two things. It taught us just how bad the Rockets can be when they are missing Chris Paul, and just how devastating they can be with a healthy squad. Houston split their four games this past week, losing in overtime to the Wizards on Monday and dropping what should have been a bounce back game against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday. Chris Paul returned to the lineup Friday after missing the previous three games and the Rockets shelled the San Antonio Spurs by 31. The momentum carried into the following night, and Houston dispatched the lowly Chicago Bulls by 16.

Houston is now 11-11, fourth in the Southwest Division, and tenth in the Western Conference.

Depth Issues

This past week was essentially a microcosm of the Rockets season as a whole so far. When healthy, they’ve proven that they can compete with any team in the league. The difference between this year and last is that when they weren’t completely healthy last year, they were still fully capable of competing at a championship caliber level. The Rockets have nowhere near that level of depth at the moment this year, and when a guy like Chris Paul or James Harden is out, Houston’s bench simply isn’t good enough to pick up the slack.

To put how much of a liability their bench is at the moment, consider this: when it was discovered that Gerald Green and Chris Paul would miss multiple games, the Rockets elected to promote journeyman Danuel House Jr. from the G-league rather than distribute those minutes to Michael Carter-Williams (who has all but replaced Bobby Brown as this year’s human victory cigar/white flag). House Jr. was fed 28 minutes in his first game as a Rocket on Monday and has since averaged 23.3.

Fortunately, the Rockets are as healthy as they’ve been all season, as not only did Green and Paul return, but Saturday marked the season debut of Nene, who’s return helps boost a woefully thin front court lineup outside of Clint Capela. Guard Brandon Knight also saw some action with a Rio Grande Valley assignment during the week, so there’s progression towards his debut as a Rocket as well.

Chris Paul’s Impact

Dropping Wednesday’s game to the Mavericks was an absolute heartbreaker. The loss dropped Houston to two games below .500 and left many wondering if the Rockets just simply weren’t a good team this year. When Paul’s return was announced on Friday, it was generally expected that the Rockets would play better, but hardly anyone predicted the absolute blowout that was handed out in San Antonio. Saturday’s game was more of the same, as Houston led by 10 or more throughout the contest.

We could do a deep dive into the numbers behind what the Rockets look like with Paul versus without, but the bottom line is that when Paul isn’t in the lineup, Houston is winless. When Paul plays, the Rockets are 11-6, and that win percentage (.647) would be good for 5th in the Western Conference.

Harden’s doing Harden things

So far the early season MVP discussions have centered around Stephen Curry and my basketball man crush, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Meanwhile, James Harden continues to play out of his mind, with or without a headband. Despite missing three games early in the season, Harden is sixth in the league in points with 582, and leads the league in points per game at 30.6. This past week saw Harden add a 50-point game and a triple-double to this season’s resume. For the week, Harden averaged 33 points, 11.8 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. Just another day in the office.

Up Next

The Rockets begin a winnable three-game road trip on Monday against the now Jimmy Butler-less Minnesota Timberwolves before travelling to Utah Thursday and Dallas Saturday. Houston will take on Minnesota for the first time since last year’s first round playoff matchup, and while the Timberwolves have won 4 out of their last 5, the competition has been poor, and Minnesota is still 11-12. Utah is in the midst of their own woes as well. So much so that Kyle Korver was dusted off and traded for in an attempt to jumpstart an offense that ranks 27th in the league. Saturday’s tilt against Dallas is the only game this week featuring a team that currently owns a winning record, even if they are only a game above .500.

The healthy Rockets are a night and day team compared to the injured Rockets, and right now they’re healthy. I’ll double-down on last week’s whiff of a prediction and call wins in each game as Houston slowly climbs back into contention.

 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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