ROCKET LAUNCH

The Beard is back!

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

At 8:38 pm on Tuesday, it was confirmed that Harden had made it to Orlando, Florida. After sitting a couple of days out because of the protocol, Harden was able practice on Thursday.

Harden leads the league in scoring by averaging 34.4 points per game. The NBA's bubble has Harden ranked number four on Orlando's campus. Harden coming back to practice has caused the intensity to go up. The Rockets love Harden's leadership and communication.

"It changes everything. He's our captain. He runs the ship. Intensity goes up. Level of play goes up," P.J. Tucker said. "He raises the stakes every time he steps on the floor. That's what we love about him. That's what we love about him. Win, lose, draw, we know what we're going to get from 13."

Everything about Harden looked the same in practice according to Rockets' Ben McLemore. Harden loved giving his teammates a hard time in practice by challenging and trash talking them.

"The world knows, no matter what's going on, James Harden loves to hoop," as Harden told the media. "In practice, I was doing a lot of trash talking, which is usual. PJ, he's a dog. He brings the same intensity."

His main objective is getting this team championship ready. Harden wants the same intensity from each player on the Rockets every practice. As the leader of this team, he holds himself accountable.

Harden even touched on social justice issues and George Floyd. He loved the protest that happened in the city of Houston. Harden wants to make sure the name he chooses for the back of his jersey is thought out carefully.

"The way the city rallied, it was amazing. I think the world saw it. How so many people could come together. Obliviously it was for a tragic reason. The marching and everything we're standing for is very powerful," Harden said. "I'm in the process of figuring out if I'm going to put a message on my back or another to deliver my message, but somehow my message is going to get across."

The Rockets first game is against the Dallas Mavericks on July 31.

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After a rough, disheartening loss the night before to even the series at one game apiece, the Astros tried to shake it off and regroup for a win on Thursday to get the series win against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Here is a quick recap of the finale:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4.

Record: 6-6, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (0-1, 40.50 ERA).

Bielak tosses an impressive start as Houston puts him in winning position

After both teams finished the first three innings scoreless, the Astros were able to get a little bit of good luck on their side, unlike the night prior. Jose Altuve started the inning with a much-needed single, stole second, then moved to third on a groundout for the second out. That set up Yuli Gurriel, who hit a ball down the third-base line that would strike the bag and bounce away from Arizona, allowing Altuve to score and put Houston up 1-0.

Though he likely would have preferred more run support, Brandon Bielak made do with that one run in his first career MLB start. He was able to complete five innings of work, holding Arizona scoreless over that span despite allowing a runner in each inning. He left in line for the win, with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR.

Altuve extends the lead, then Diamondbacks go ahead

Jose Altuve helped double the lead in the top of the sixth, connecting for a one-out solo home run to make it 2-0. With Bielak's night over at five innings, Cy Sneed took over in the bottom of the sixth and allowed back-to-back one-out doubles to cut Houston's lead in half. He allowed a single to put runners on the corners before Dusty Baker would move on to another reliever to try and preserve the lead. Blake Taylor would enter but allowed the tying RBI-single to take Bielak out of winning position. Taylor would go on to allow a go-ahead run before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor was still on the mound but would only get two outs before another call to the pen. Andre Scrubb would enter and get the final out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Jose Altuve would improve to 3-for-4 on the night with a two-out double, setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead two-run home run to make it 4-3, Houston.

Ryan Pressly allows the walk-off

Scrubb went back to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was able to record a 1-2-3 inning to move the game to the ninth. After a scoreless top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly would attempt to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Instead, he would allow the walk-off, loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles before a two-RBI single to give Arizona the win and the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Oakland to kick off a three-game weekend series with the A's on Friday at 8:10 PM Central. The A's will send Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93 ERA) to the mound while Houston will turn to Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) to help cut down Oakland's division lead.

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