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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Houston has lost seven of eight

Mariners ride big fifth inning to series win over Astros

Jake Odorizzi earned his second loss as an Astro Sunday. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

With the losing streak behind them by taking the middle game on Saturday night, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Sunday afternoon to try and make it back-to-back victories to take the series. Instead, they'd suffer their seventh loss in the last eight games.

Final Score: Mariners 7, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 7-8, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ljay Newsome (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (0-2)

Odorizzi locks in through four while Houston grabs a lead

Jake Odorizzi did not start his afternoon the way he needed to in order to have a good rebound outing compared to his first start. In the 37-pitch first inning, he issued two walks and an RBI-single, putting the Mariners at a significant advantage early. Odorizzi flipped the switch, though, finding a rhythm to retire the next ten batters after that RBI-single to get through four innings with just one run allowed.

Offensively for Houston, they quickly responded to Seattle's run in the first with one of their own in the top of the second, capitalizing on some shoddy defense by Seattle to get Carlos Correa to second to set up an RBI ground-rule double by Aledmys Diaz, tying things up 1-1. It stayed that way until the top of the fifth when a leadoff walk by Chas McCormick would turn into a run after a stolen base and two sacrifice flys to give Houston a 2-1 lead.

Mariners explode for four in the fifth

The lead was short-lived, as Seattle would explode in the bottom of the fifth, getting a leadoff single and one-out walk to set up a two-RBI triple by Mitch Haniger to go ahead 3-2. That would prompt Dusty Baker out of the dugout to end Odorizzi's day and move on to Brooks Raley. Raley would not fare any better, giving up a two-run homer to Ty France to extend Seattle's new lead to 5-2. He would finish the inning, putting Odorizzi's line final: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 89 P.

Seattle takes the series

Seattle would strike again in the bottom of the seventh against Joe Smith. After a leadoff walk, the Mariners would get back-to-back one-out RBI-doubles to extend their lead to 7-2. After Smith in the seventh, Peter Solomon would make his major-league debut in the bottom of the eighth and work around a one-out walk for a scoreless inning. Houston would then come up empty in the top of the ninth, dropping the finale and the series to Seattle.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Denver tonight and get an off day tomorrow. Tuesday night, they'll start a quick two-game set with the Rockies at 7:40 PM Central. Houston currently has Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 5.27 ERA) penciled in as their starter, but with ongoing illness, he has not yet been fully confirmed. For the Rockies, Jon Gray (1-1, 2.87 ERA) is expected to start.

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