Rockets capture 2nd win of the season

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets climb back to defeat the Thunder 116-112

It was ugly, it was unconventional, but the Rockets managed to climb out of a 62-52 halftime deficit to escape the Toyota Center Monday night with their second win of the season. It's clear the Rockets still have a lot to clean up, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, but they'll take these close wins in the meantime. As Houston continues to struggle to hit their jumpers, head coach Mike D'Antoni believes this stems from their overall defensive effort.

"If you don't have energy on defense, then you usually don't on offense," said D'Antoni after the game. "In my experience, if you don't play hard defensively, then your shot is short and you don't roll into it. To me, it's a fact that one leads to the other."

The Rockets shot 22.7% from beyond the three-point line and without the heroics of Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker, it's unlikely they walk out with the narrow victory that they got. James Harden and Eric Gordon could shake their early shooting slumps as they both combined to shoot 4 for 21 from beyond the arc. Harden's scoring mostly came from his ability to get to the foul line and convert (21 of 22). To try and make up for the three-point disparity, the Rockets scored 56 of their team points from the paint.

Star of the game: While Harden scored 40 points tonight, Russell Westbrook will be taking home this honor for the third straight game. Putting up 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists on 9 of 16 shooting from the field, Westbrook absolutely carried the Rockets over the finish line. His rebounding and playmaking in particular were crucial as the Rockets could not buy a basket from long-range.

"It's up to me to be able to make sure my guys are ready to go and not just ready, but to compete and play hard, because playing hard is not an option for me," Westbrook said after the game. "That's something we have to take pride in. To get to that level, we have to do that every night."

Honorable mention: P.J. Tucker was fantastic tonight, and he's been one of Houston's only reliable three-point shooter to start the season. Tucker chipped in 17 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and shot 5 of 7 from three-point range. Tucker was active defensively, asked to play small ball for much of the game, and hit a huge three pointer for the Rockets in the fourth quarter off a Westbrook assist.

"I would imagine if he didn't do what he did, we probably would've lost," D'Antoni said. "He also allows us to go small and I thought that helped us in the second quarter when [Nerlens] Noel was in there."

Key moment: The aforementioned dish to P.J. Tucker had to be the play of the game for Houston. It was just such a momentum shifter and again illuminated the kind of chaotic energy that a Westbrook can bring to this Rockets team.

Up next: The Rockets will go on the road for the first time this season to play the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, October 30th at 7:00 p.m.

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One more win and they're in. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As they were at the start of the 60 game season, the Astros are a virtual lock to make the expanded postseason field. Unexpectedly, the only reason the Astros have a shot in October is because the field is expanded. Still, all they need is one win in three shots at the Rangers or one Angels loss as they play three at the Dodgers and the Astros are in and an absolute threat to win another American League pennant. This Astros squad is an average squad. The losses of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Yordan Alvarez combined with all their key hitters dropping off from 2019 make Astros' mediocrity a simple fact of life. A mediocre but potent team can beat any better team in a best of three, best of five, or best of seven series. Heck, a bad team can beat a great team two out of three. The format is such that the Astros will be the sixth seed among the eight AL playoff teams, so they will be the road team in each game of a best of three series at the number three seed. They could be headed to Oakland, Minnesota, or Chicago.

A couple of peripheral bummers of the Astros to this point disappointing 2020…

One, Justin Verlander's dream of 300 career wins pretty much died with the ulna collateral ligament in his right arm. Verlander's one win this year combined with zero next year will have him at 226 career wins when he turns 39 in February of 2022. That Verlander can then average 15 wins per season through age 43 isn't utterly impossible but is extremely unlikely. While cementing his Hall of Fame credentials, Verlander didn't average 15 wins per season from 2015 through '19.

Two, Jose Altuve's collision course with the 3000 hit club has hit a major detour. I'm not declaring Altuve washed up, though only apologists and homers would describe his short season performance as better than feeble. He's been among the worst regulars in all of Major League Baseball this season. Altuve's best baseball is behind him. If he can get back to 2018 or 2019 Altuve that's plenty good, though not close to 2016 and 2017 Altuve. Well, Altuve failed to reach 170 hits in either 2018 or '19. Giving him 170 hits per season for each of the next eight seasons (bet the under), Altuve would be within about 30 hits of 3000 when approaching his 39th birthday at the start of the 2029 season. Craig Biggio remained a lineup regular at age 40 only so he could get to 3000.

Texans face another tough test against Steelers

It's no shocking upset if they win but the Texans probably come home from Pittsburgh Sunday night with an 0-3 record. As only four point underdogs they should have a much better shot than they did against the Chiefs and Ravens. Not that that is saying much. The Texans were pretty pitifully overmatched by the Chiefs and Ravens, the faint silver lining is that they're the two best teams in the AFC. It's possible the Steelers are the third best team (I'll take the Bills but it's possible). So even at 0-3 the Texans' season wouldn't be dead. Just two years ago they opened 0-3 before ripping off nine straight wins and finishing 11-5. But just as the 2018 Texans wound up, this season's team would be a total pretender.

All five starters back on the offensive line was supposed to be a boon to the Texans' offense. The pass protection has been porous and now has to deal with a top tier pass rushing Steeler defense. Deshaun Watson has been his usual terrifically elusive self, but merely okay throwing the ball. Offensively, 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger has looked all right at quarterback after missing all but the opener last season with a blown out throwing elbow. Big Ben is not close to the mobility threat Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are, but the Texan D which has thus far been sieve-like against running backs will see two backs each over five yards per carry thus far in James Conner and Benny Snell.

At least the Texans will have no crowd noise to deal with at Heinz Field. The Steelers are 2-0 but have only beaten the awful Giants and the injury-battered Broncos.


Buzzer Beaters:

1. One game is one game but Bregman, Altuve, and Springer all homering Thursday night had to create some warm feelings for any Astros fan.

2. The Lakers-Nuggets series has been outstanding. Number of Rockets you think are watching any of it: over/under 2 1/2.

3. Greatest Bennys: Bronze-the one with the Jets Silver-Jack Gold-Goodman

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