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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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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