Taking care of business

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets blowout Minnesota in Houston 139-109

Tonight, the Rockets showed what they could be capable of when they reach their peaks as a team. In a night without Clint Capela (right heel soreness) and P.J. Tucker (hurt his shoulder in the middle of the first quarter), Houston really turned it on defensively. The Rockets only allowed 95.4 points per 100 possessions and outscored the Wolves by 26.3 points per 100 possessions. For the first time in a long time, the Rockets completely destroyed a team they were supposed to beat.

In terms of noteworthy items, obviously P.J. Tucker's injury in the first quarter was brutal and very scary for a Rockets team that was already struggling to keep it together defensively. Tucker took a hard screen that he wasn't expecting from Gorgui Dieng in the first quarter and was completely laid out for a good four minutes before he walked to the locker room with the Rockets' training staff. Tucker never returned, but according to head coach Mike D'Antoni, he will be fine and possibly ready to go on Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Another noteworthy development is D'Antoni opting to insert guard Ben McLemore into the starting lineup and moving Danuel House to the bench as a backup power forward. According to D'Antoni, this was a move designed to bring more minutes to players like Austin Rivers and ease the burden for P.J. Tucker at the power forward position. House had also been struggling to shoot the ball as of late so this also may be a way of rewarding the hot hand in McLemore. It's unclear if McLemore will continue to start this season, but D'Antoni left the possibilities open-ended.

It's hard to talk about this game without discussing how well Isaiah Hartenstein played tonight (17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals on 8 of 9 shooting from the field). Hartenstein was given the start at center tonight and took good advantage of the opportunity he was given. Although he won't be receiving "star of the game" or "honorable mention" tonight, Russell Westbrook and James Harden both raved about him as a clear consolation prize.

This was a really solid win for Houston and there's really not much else to say here.

Star of the game: James Harden broke out of the mini-slump he was on, tallying 32 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals on 8 of 17 shooting from the field, 6 of 11 shooting from three-point range, and 10 of 13 shooting from the free-throw line. Harden had 11 turnovers, but a lot of these were collected during his poor start to the game (4 points, 5 turnovers, and 1 of 6 shooting from the field). He was incredible and since the Rockets were up so big early on, Harden got the opportunity to rest for the entire fourth quarter, only playing 28 minutes.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook was the main reason Houston was able to gain the early lead. Although he had a particularly bad shooting stretch in the middle of the game, he corrected it in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 stals on 10 of 23 shooting from the field and 9 of 10 shooting from the free throw line.

Key moment: The Rockets really took advantage of the Timberwolves in the second and third quarters, where they outscored them 80-56. Harden had a poor first quarter, but really got it going in the second quarter where he logged 18 points and 7 rebounds on 5 of 5 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 shooting from three-point range. Minnesota never recovered from that and failed to make a run in the fourth quarter.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Memphis to play the Grizzlies at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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