The Rockets Report

Rockets stumble through a winless week, continue to plummet in standings

Chris Paul and James Harden
Things are not going well, even when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

Sometimes sports do a great job of making people look silly. Take, for example, last week when I predicted that the Rockets would go undefeated this week. With a slate of just near .500 or below teams, a fully healthy Rockets squad, and a group that had just recently embarrassed San Antonio and Chicago, it seemed like a safe call. What I've learned from the past three games, however, is that there is nothing predictable about this Houston Rockets team, as constructed.

Instead of a sweep, the Rockets were swept.

Tuesday night the Rockets were completely dismantled by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Leading 62-48 at the half, Houston imploded and followed with a 29-55 second half. James Harden would lead the Rockets as usual with 29 points, but beyond himself and Capela's 24 points, there was zero support as the next highest scorer was Eric Gordon with 10. The loss dropped Houston to 11-12 for the season.

Thursday gave the Rockets yet another opportunity to climb back to .500 against an equally underperforming Utah Jazz team. It looked as though fortune was swinging Houston's way when Utah's defensive anchor, Rudy Gobert, earned an early ejection, but instead it seemed that the send off galvanized Utah fans and Jazz alike. The result was a very thorough dusting of the Rockets, behind a 24 point, 10 rebound performance from Derrick Favors. Houston saw five separate players in double digits, but none higher than Harden's 15. Houston shot 8-36 from 3-point range as they fell to 11-13 on the season.

Saturday the Rockets traveled to Dallas for a quick rematch following last week's blowout defeat. It looked like Houston would finally be off the schneid until the dad-bod himself, Luka Doncic fired off 11 straight points to leapfrog the Rockets late in the fourth. Doncic would finish with 21 points against the Rockets. Harden would once again lead Houston in scoring with 35 points and 8 assists. Chris Paul followed with 23 points and 8 assists. Their third straight loss would drop the Rockets to 11-14. After 25 regular season games, Houston is now 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams.

Short on Excuses

Until now, there's been an easily explainable reason behind Houston's slow start. At first it was a matter of missing either Harden or Paul. Then it was a matter of health. Then their defense. And then their poor shooting.

The issue now is that every one of those excuses is null. The team is as healthy as it's been this season. Rockets' defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik has returned to the sideline. Houston's offense remains rated one of the best in the league prior to this week.

There comes a point in the season where, despite the team's potential, you have to begin to judge a team based off of their record. And at this point in the season, Houston just doesn't look good.

Looking ahead

Houston had their chance to notch a few victories and they squandered it. Now they get to face the meat of the conference, with matchups against the Trail Blazers Tuesday, the Lakers Thursday, and Memphis Saturday. What you have there is competition against the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds, which doesn't bode well after being stomped by the 11th and 13th seeds just this past week. Nothing about the Rockets makes sense anymore and until there's any semblance of inspired play, I don't expect Houston to win any of these contests.



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Astros defeat the Rangers, 9-2. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

Kyle Tucker doubled twice and had three RBIs and Jose Altuve added three hits and drove in two runs as the Houston Astros used a seven-run seventh inning to break a tie and coast to a 9-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Saturday.

The Astros snapped a four-game skid and bounced back after allowing the Rangers to score their season high in a 12-8 win in the series opener.

Altuve said he hopes this game can help get the Astros on a roll after their early struggles.

“We as a team are very confident... this is the kind of team we are, we have done it before,” Altuve said. “I don't see why we can't start doing it again.”

It was tied at 2 and the bases were loaded with one out in the seventh when pinch-hitter Victor Caratini’s RBI single to right field off José Ureña (0-1) put the Astros on top.

Altuve followed with a double to the corner of left field to send two more home and push the lead to 5-2. Austin Pruitt took over and intentionally walked Yordan Alvarez before Tucker doubled to center field to score two more.

Houston made it 9-2 when Alvarez scored on a sacrifice fly by Yainer Diaz.

“That was great,” manager Joe Espada said. “That’s the offense that I’m used to seeing. When we get pitchers against the ropes, we've got to put them away and that’s exactly what we did today.”

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut and pitched six scoreless innings Sunday, gave the Astros another solid start Saturday. He gave up two runs in the first inning before settling down to pitch five scoreless frames. He allowed five singles with three walks and five strikeouts.

It was a much-needed performance after Houston’s starters had allowed 31 earned runs with a 20.93 ERA across 13 1/3 innings in the last five games.

“It started with Blanco,” Espada said. “He set the stage and then our offense got some big hits.”

Texas starter Andrew Heaney yielded four hits and two runs while walking four in 3 2/3 innings.

“I’m fighting myself a little bit right now, mechanically, mentally, just having a hard time getting some traction, getting going,” he said. "So I’m just going to keep working.”

The Rangers loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Bryan Abreu (1-1) struck out Evan Carter to escape the jam before Houston took the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Rookie Wyatt Langford had two hits and an RBI for Texas and Adolis García added two hits.

Houston’s José Abreu, who is hitting just .122 this season, had two hits with a double for his first multi-hit game this season and his first extra base hit of the year.

Blanco walked Evan Carter and García with two outs in the first before giving up his first run of the season on an RBI single by Josh Smith. Langford followed with a run-scoring single to push the lead to 2-0.

Abreu opened the fourth with a double and moved to third on a groundout by Jake Meyers before scoring on a groundout by Mauricio Dubón to cut the lead to 2-1.

Heaney then hit Altuve and Alvarez with pitches and was lifted for Jacob Latz. Tucker lined a double into center field to score Altuve and tie it at 2-2.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rangers: LHP Brock Burke was placed on the 15-day injured list Saturday after breaking his right hand punching a wall after a poor outing Friday night. … Pruitt had his contract selected from Triple-A Round Rock to take his spot on the roster. … INF Justin Foscue (left oblique strain) was transferred from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day list.

Astros: 3B Alex Bregman missed a second straight game with flu-like symptoms. … RHP Shawn Dubin (forearm strain) was reinstated from the 15-day injured list Saturday to take the spot of RHP Joel Kuhnel, who was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land.

UP NEXT

Texas RHP Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 1.45 ERA) opposes RHP Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.10) in the series finale Sunday.

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