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 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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