The Rockets Report

Rough week for Rockets as injuries contribute to three-game losing streak

Chris Paul was injured against the Lakers. Houston Rockets/Facebook

After going undefeated since a week before Thanksgiving, The Rockets white hot run finally came to an end last week. After a fourth quarter outburst secured the victory against Utah, the Rockets have since dropped three in a row - their longest losing streak of the season.

The Rockets are now second in both the conference and the league, with Golden State holding a one game lead.

Game 29: Rockets vs Utah Jazz (W, 120-99)

The final score is about as misleading as it gets. James Harden and company were in a dogfight from tip off until 8 minutes remained in the fourth. That’s when the Rockets--fueled mainly behind the shooting of Eric Gordon--ignited and scorched the Jazz for a 41-15 fourth quarter to seal the victory. Gordon led the team with 33 points, 17 of which were scored in the fourth quarter alone. Clint Capela ended the game with 24 points and 20 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 18 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. A stat correction the following day would end up removing a rebound from Capela and awarding it to Paul, which would register as his first triple-double of the season. Harden would finish with 26 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds.

Game 30: Rockets vs LA Lakers (L, 122-116)

The LA Lakers in Houston arrived as severe underdogs after almost stealing a game from Golden State the night before. The heartbreaking loss must have emboldened them, as they erupted out of the gate. The Lakers controlled the game for the entire first half, leading by as much as 22 at one point. The Rockets would chip away, though turning the entire third quarter into a slug fest. Sloppy defense and a career night from Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma would prove too much to overcome for Houston, despite a 51 point, 9 assist performance from Harden. Gordon would provide the only other 20-plus point performance for the Rockets, adding 21 of his own. Paul had 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists before leaving late in the fourth with what would eventually be diagnosed as a left abductor strain.

Game 31: Rockets vs LA Clippers (L, 128-118)

Looking to rebound from their first loss in December, the Rockets jumped out ahead of the Clippers early. Houston would hold on to a steady lead until midway through the third when Austin Rivers tied the game after a 12-point outburst. The Clippers would take the lead and hold on for the win despite a late fourth quarter surge from Houston. Rivers would finish with a career-high 36 points for the Clippers, while Harden recorded his second straight 51-point game. Gordon added 28 points as well.

Game 32: Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 112-107)

With 14 lead changes and neither lead climbing higher than 8 points, this primetime Christmas Day matchup certainly did not disappoint. After a close game throughout, both teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 88. It was OKC’s third ranked defense that would prove to be the deciding factor in the end, as a string of well timed steals and blocks in the final two minutes would seal the Rockets fate. Russell Westbrook finished with 31 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony would follow with 24 and 20 points respectively. Harden finished with 29 points 14 assists and 8 rebounds, and Trevor Ariza and Gordon each chipped in 20 as well.

Takeaways

The back to back 50 point games were historic. The last player to record back to back 50 point games was Kobe Bryant in 2007. The last time a player scored 51 points to go with 8 or more assists? According to basketball-reference.com, James Harden is the only person to do it since 1983-1984.

At 32 straight games with 20 or more points (and counting), Harden is ranks among the greats. The only other players that have stretched out a start like this are Wilt Chamberlain, Lebron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Two of the losses this week came with Capela on the bench, thus proving just how valuable he’s proven to be to the Rockets this season. His rebounding was expected, but this season his defensive improvement and ability to find soft spots in the defense while teams trap perimeter scorers has been key to the Rockets meteoric start.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets road doesn’t get much easier for the remainder of the week, with back to back away games against the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, followed by a home game Sunday against the Lakers. Both the Celtics and Wizards are playoff bound teams with dynamic, difficult backcourt assignments. The Lakers are still a sub .500 team despite their win last Wednesday. Chris Paul should return to the lineup Thursday in Boston, and they’ll need all hands on deck. I expect the Rockets to shake off the current losing streak, taking two out of three heading into the new year.

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Houston's winning streak is up to nine

Astros secure series over Orioles as winning streak continues

Zack Greinke provided another long outing for his team on Tuesday. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After continuing their recent dominance with a lopsided win over this Orioles team on Monday in the rain-plagued opener, the Astros eyed number nine in a row if they could do it again on Tuesday. Though not as one-sided, the Astros would get the victory to secure the series win.

Final Score: Astros 3, Orioles 1

Astros' Record: 45-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (8-2)

Losing Pitcher: Jorge Lopez (2-9)

A tame start for Houston's offense

After a scoreless first inning on both sides, Myles Straw started the scoring with two outs in the top of the second, sneaking a ball off and over the left-field wall just out of the grasp of Austin Hays for a solo homer to put Houston ahead 1-0. After Baltimore tied the game in the third, the game remained gridlocked 1-1 until the top of the seventh, when Chase McCormick would reach on a one-out infield single then raced around to score on a Myles Straw RBI single, putting Houston back in front 2-1.

Greinke pitches into the eighth

Over that span, Zack Greinke was getting efficient innings against Baltimore's lineup. He allowed that trying run in the third, which came after a one-out walk moved to third on a single, then scored on a sac fly. That was one of his few moments with runners in scoring position, as he erased a single in the first, a single in the fourth, and a double in the seventh to maintain the new 2-1 lead.

The Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the eighth but came away with only one run of insurance on a McCormick sac fly, making it 3-1 as Greinke returned to the mound to continue working. He allowed a leadoff single then retired the next batter before Dusty Baker would come out to get him as the left-handed portion of the lineup was due up and a better match for Brooks Raley, who had been warming. Greinke's final line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 91 P.

Astros make it nine in a row

Raley completed the eighth for Greinke with two strikeouts to strand the inherited runner. With it still a two-run game in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save. He erased a two-out single to finish things off, giving Houston their ninth win in a row and securing the series with a chance at the sweep in the finale.

Up Next: The finale of this three-game set will be another 6:05 PM Central start time on Wednesday. Thomas Eshelman (0-0, 1.93 ERA) will be on the mound for Baltimore to face the Astros, while Jose Urquidy (5-3, 3.65 ERA) will start for Houston.

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