The Rockets Report

Team struggles without Harden, losing two games in a week

Gerald Green has been a nice signing. Rockets.com

The Rockets spent the past week adjusting to life without James Harden on the court, and there were some growing pains in the process. The adjusted roster has featured an emphasis on riding recently acquired swingman Gerald Green’s hot streak as the sixth man, as well as extended playing time for point guard Briante Weber. The transition has been less than seamless, as the Rockets dropped two out of three this past week. Houston’s overall record has them fourth overall in the league now, and while they remain second the western conference, the gap is narrowing.

Game 36: Rockets at Orlando Magic (W, 116-98)

If there was ever a team to face immediately after losing the highest scoring in the league, it would be the Magic. The Rockets tinkered with their lineup and cruised to an easy victory behind strong defense on their end and abysmal shooting on the Magic’s. More on this game can be found here.

Game 37: Rockets vs Golden State (L, 114-124)

When you play the Golden State Warriors these days, there is no room for error. A glimmer of hope was shed on the Rockets with the news that Kevin Durant would not be playing due to injury heading into the contest. The game lived up to its nationally televised billing as the two western conference heavyweights refused to give either pull away with any significant lead. At the half the Rockets led the Warriors 63-63, with Eric Gordon pacing the Rockets with 17 points. The game would remain tight until around three and a half minutes remaining, when a series of miscues and poor shots allowed a dialed in Golden State team to finally pull away. Gordon would finish with 30 points, and Gerald Green would sink a career-high 8 three-pointers on his way to 29 points off the bench. Chris Paul added 28 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds.

Game 38: Rockets at Detroit Pistons (L, 101-108)

The Rockets traveled to Detroit Saturday night looking to shake off a tough loss to Golden State, but the Pistons--even without star center Andre Drummond--apparently had other plans. It was another close game throughout, but sloppy play in the third turned a 58-57 lead at the half into a 77-88 deficit heading into the fourth. The Rockets would be unable to recover and would eventually drop their second game in a row. No Houston player broke the 20-point barrier that night. Paul led the team with 16 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds. Gordon, Green, and Trevor Ariza added 15 each.

Takeaways:

Picking up the slack: Gerald Green has been absolutely electric in Harden’s absence, while Ryan Anderson has been quite the opposite. Green is now averaging 16.5 points per game off the bench thanks largely in part to his .510 three-point percentage since he signed with Houston six games ago. Anderson however has shot 8-34 from beyond the arc for an unremarkable .235 percentage in that same span. The Rockets need everyone dialed in in order to maintain momentum with Harden out.

Looking ahead:

The Rockets will have a three game work week beginning tonight in Chicago with a matchup against a rebuilding Bulls team. Wednesday they’ll host a pesky Portland team and Friday they’ll finish the week in Phoenix versus the Suns. Tonight’s matchup shouldn’t pose an issue, even as the Rockets look to further acclimate to the new rotation. The Trail Blazers, as I’ve said before, are never a team you can sleep on and should be a tough matchup, while the Phoenix game can be viewed as quite the opposite. I see the Rockets bouncing back this week with only one likely loss and the possibility to go undefeated.

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The Marlins are showing interest in Yuli Gurriel. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

As the reporting date for pitchers and catchers draws near, there are still some decisions hanging over the Astros. One of them is whether or not to bring back Yuli Gurriel. “La Piña,” as he's affectionately called, is 38 years old. He turns 39 in June. His leadership and instincts cannot be matched. The man has seen a ton of baseball and comes from a family of baseballers. So, what's the holdup?

Enter the Miami Marlins. The ownership group, led by Bruce Sherman, is undoubtedly trying to capitalize on the heavy Cuban population in the Miami area. Bringing in the Cuban Babe Ruth is a great way to attempt to get more fan engagement. The franchise has only been to the playoffs three times. First two times (1997 and 2003), they won it all. In 2020, they were swept in the NLDS. They're most likely offering him a ridiculous amount of money to come to a team with a losing history. Knowing the Marlins are willing to hand out stupid money, would you blame La Piña for taking one last ridiculous payday?

Think about it. He's got two rings and made a ton of money. He can safely retire very comfortably. The lure to come back for another year or two would definitely be about money. The Marlins aren't a real threat in the next couple of seasons to do anything, but are willing to pay me like I'm still a star? Plus, I'm closer to my home country with all my family and friends? Sign me up!

This is where the Astros have to make a decision. Bring Yuli back for another year or move on. If he follows through with his last four years, this should be a bounce back year. Since 2016, his first year in Houston and MLB, he's hit .262, .299, .291, .298, .232 (pandemic shortened season), .319, and .242 last season. The man is a professional hitter. He knows how to work an at-bat and can drive pitchers nuts. His defense isn't bad either. He's a more than capable first baseman.

This won't win me any favor, but I think it's time to move on. Yuli will always have a place in my heart because he was a major factor in the Astros' two World Series wins. Last season's title run was even more satisfying since it helped silence the haters. That was the mouthwash that got rid of the stench of the sign stealing scandal. Piña was there through it all.

Now, it's time to start transitioning towards the future. Piña, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr were the only holdovers from the 2017 team. Verlander was one of the guys the Mets backed the Brinks truck up for this offseason. Altuve (32), Bregman (28), and McCullers (29) should be all that's left of that group. While it would've been great to have Verlander (39) back, the emergence of the youth movement in the pitching staff made his loss somewhat expendable. At some point, the nostalgia wears off. Father Time and Mother Nature are both undefeated. If they were to bring Piña back, he should be a part timer transitioning into a hitting coach. Careers come to an end. It's time to start looking at his exit.

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