Bad call. Worse loss.

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets blow giant lead and lose to Spurs 135-133

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets blow giant lead and lose to Spurs 135-133

The Rockets could come up with a bunch of excuses for why they lost this game, but at the end of the day, that's all they will amount to - excuses. Houston had every opportunity to close this one out and they didn't.

Houston actually started the game out decent, to their credit. They had a 63-59 lead at halftime and 97-81 lead heading into the third quarter. This is where shot-making and defense absolutely killed the Rockets to close out the game. They posted a 109.2 defensive rating (good for bottom 10 in the league), shot 42 of 112 from the field (38%), and 15 of 51 from three-point range (29%).

The Rockets allowed Bryn Forbes and Lonnie Walker to combine for 53 points on 20 of 31 shooting from the field and 9 of 13 from three-point distance. Walker had been struggling mightily to get going for the Spurs before this game (2.5 points per game on 41.6% true shooting) and Houston allowed him to have a career game.

This will go down as one of the few games of the season where neither James Harden or Russell Westbrook will receive the star of the game or honorable mention honors, despite Harden scoring 50 points. Harden and Westbrook combined for 18 of 68 shooting from the field and 5 of 26 shooting from three-point range. They were both Houston's only negative plus/minus players in the starting lineup (-3 and -8 respectively).

Star of the game: Clint Capela returned from the illness that kept him bed-ridden for a week to log 22 points, 20 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal on 9 of 9 shooting from the field and 4 of 6 shooting from the free throw line. Capela defended well for taking a week off and had the team's second highest plus/minus in this loss (+16).

Honorable mention: After shooting the ball dreadfully before this game (28.6% from three-point range), Austin Rivers had one of his better games of the season, scoring 19 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field (5 of 6 shooting from three-point range), grabbing 5 rebounds, and playing excellent individual defense down the stretch for Houston.

Key moment: With a 13-point lead and 8 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Rockets let a blown call get to them and proceeded to play some of the worst defense they've played all season.

It was obviously inexcusable for the officiating crew to completely miss a basket like that, but the story of this game was and should continue to be how poorly the Rockets played following that call. Their decision making and shot-making also cost them dearly in the overtime periods.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Toronto at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday to take on the surging Raptors.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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