Too close for comfort

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets beat Cavaliers in Cleveland 116-110

Had things stayed the course early in the fourth quarter, this would be a very different and darker recap for the Rockets. However, a win is a win and Houston showed impressive resolve down the stretch, specifically James Harden.

Aside from Harden's heroics, the biggest takeaway from this game is the growing rhythm of Russell Westbrook with this Rockets group. It's very possible that this is just a good three-game stand for Westbrook where he happens to be playing a bunch of bad defenses, but it's definitely worth noting how he's adapted to teams trapping Harden.

Now, the Cavs didn't really trap Harden tonight, but when they did, it was in the midst of their 24-0 run. When the tide started to change however, you saw much of what Westbrook has been doing the past two games - driving almost immediately off the catch. It may not be cutting to the basket, but it's effectively the next best thing Westbrook could do. There are few players in the NBA more dangerous driving to the rim with a head of steam than Westbrook. Against the Kings, Westbrook was making layup after layup after drives on catches. Tonight, you saw more of the secondary playmaking Westbrook could provide as teams collapsed and he found open shooters.

With Eric Gordon (knee), Austin Rivers (illness), and Tyson Chandler (illness) still out tonight, the Rockets effectively played a 6-man rotation. Nobody outside of Harden, Westbrook, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, Ben McLemore, and Danuel House played more than 11 minutes tonight. Houston still looks shaky defensively (116.6 Defensive Rating), but it'll be interesting to see if that ticks up when they shake the bug that's plagued the team the past couple weeks and have some semblance of a healthy roster.

Star of the game: Clint Capela was fa... I'm just kidding. James Harden put the team on his back tonight and carved up this Cavalier's defense like tender steak. Harden finished the game with 55 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks on 20 of 34 shooting from the field, 10 of 18 shooting from three-point range, and 5 of 5 shooting from the free throw line. He scored 20 of his 55 points in the 4th quarter when the Rockets desperately needed it and played admirable defense down the stretch. This is Harden's 7th career game with 55 points and 8 assists. Everybody else in NBA history has a combined 15 of those (credit to Kelly Scaletta for this stat).

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook has really started to find his rhythm with the Rockets these past few games. Part of this is because of Houston's concerted effort to get Westbrook involved early in games, but he deserves full credit for capitalizing on it and carrying his momentum over the rest of the game. Westbrook had 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals on 52.8% true shooting (higher than his season average of 49.8%). Over the past three games, Westbrook is averaging 27.0 points, 8.3 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 steals on 65.7% true shooting.

Key moment: After giving up a 24-0 run the Cavaliers (you read that right), the Rockets ended the game on a 28-11 run which included multiple impossible step-back jumpers, layups, and floaters from James Harden and the game clinching three from P.J. Tucker assisted by Harden.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Orlando at 6:00 p.m. on Friday to take on the Magic.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome