The Rockets Report

Rockets win streak reaches nine with tougher tests coming this week

Things are pointing in the right direction for James Harden and the Rockets. NBA.COM

The Rockets capitalized on the extra rest they were afforded during their two-game work schedule this past week, stretching their winning streak to nine games after beating the Utah Jazz last Thursday and winning an absolute battle with the Portland Trail Blazers this past Saturday. With two more wins, the Rockets have taken over as the best team in the league.

Game 23: Rockets at Utah Jazz (W, 112-101)

It seems as though in almost every game the Rockets play in, they have an offensive explosion that opposing teams simply cannot recover from. In this case, that explosion came in the form of a 37-point third quarter. James Harden led the game with 29 points, followed by Ryan Anderson with 23. Chris Paul continued to play his role as the glue guy, adding 18 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Game 24: Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (W, 124-117)

The Rockets have been beating teams so handily this season that the only narrative angle anyone has been able to come up with as far as a potential weakness would be Harden and Paul’s inexperience sharing the court in close games. The point was proved moot at least for a moment on Saturday night, as Houston completed a come-from-behind victory after withstanding a 35-point offensive onslaught from Damian Lillard. Harden scored 15 of the Rockets’ 40 points in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback. He would finish with 48. Nearly lost in the shadow of Harden’s brilliant performance was Paul’s 26 point outing.

Takeaways

  • Open looks: One of the biggest positives to Paul’s return to the lineup has been his effect on Anderson’s shooting percentage. In 16 games played without Paul, Anderson shot .376 from the field. In the 9 games they’ve shared the court, Anderson’s percentage is almost 50% (.498).

  • Working on both sides: To no one’s surprise, the Rockets are currently ranked second in the league in points per game. It was stated early in the season, however, that improving on defense was a priority if they were to make a deeper run in the playoffs. To say they’ve improved is an understatement. Having ended last season as the 18th ranked team defensively, the Rockets head into the 2nd third of the season currently ranked 8th in points allowed.

  • With Paul settling into his typical elite distributor role, Harden was overtaken by Russell Westbrook as the league’s assist leader this week. If it’s any consolation, Harden still league in points, averaging 32.3 per game at an unreal 46% shooting percentage.

Looking ahead

The Rockets have a full plate of home cooking this week as they host the Pelicans on Monday, the Hornets on Wednesday, the Spurs on Friday, and the Bucks on Saturday. The Pelicans sport one of the nastiest frontcourts in the NBA with superstars Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, but they’ve been unable to maintain any consistency. The Hornets will have a chance to avenge the 109-93 blowout suffered earlier in the season, but at 9-16 on the season, I don’t envision them capitalizing on the opportunity. Friday the Rockets will get their first look at the Spurs this season, as they welcome back Kawhi Leonard from injury. At 19-8, the Spurs represent the biggest test for the Rockets since Nov. 9 versus the Cavs. Finally, the Rockets host the Bucks and one of my favorite players in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are 15-10, but they could prove to be a sneaky difficult contest now that they’re finally healthy. From the looks of it, I would assume that the Rockets win streak ends sometime toward the end of next week, adding at least two more wins in the interim.

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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