The Rockets Report

Rockets win streak reaches nine with tougher tests coming this week

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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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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