Quality win

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Grizzlies in Memphis 107-100

While not the most exciting or noteworthy game, the Houston Rockets entered the FedEx Forum on Monday after an embarrassing blowout loss to Miami the night before and redeemed themselves with a quality win. Behind a strong James Harden performance (44 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals) and without Russell Westbrook, the Rockets finally put a few things together defensively and had the good fortune of their three-pointers fall at an average rate of 34% (17/50) after struggling so mightily from behind the arc the first 6 games of the season.

The biggest thing Houston could draw from this game is the defense they played in the second half. Houston allowed a combined 410 points over their past three games and were finally able to put together some stops, particularly in the third quarter. In defense of the Rockets, they've had a pretty staggering shooting disparity with their opponents to start the season, specifically from three-point range. Houston was shooting 30.7% from three-point range (27th in the NBA) in their first 6 games and their opponents were shooting at an unsustainable 40.4% (highest in the league). Some of that mellowed out on Monday as the Grizzlies shot a putrid 12% (3 of 25) from three-point range.

Eric Gordon and Clint Capela both showed signs of life, which is a development the Rockets have sorely needed. While Gordon didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well, he relentlessly attacked the basket, scoring 16 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in the process. Capela, while not great, was present on defense and tallied double digit rebounds (13) for the first time since October 30th in Washington. Houston needs both Gordon and Capela to build off of the energy they brought tonight if they want any chance of attaining a top seed in the Western Conference.

The Rockets still have a lot to work on as they try and climb out of the hole they've created for themselves early on defense. Their transition defense still needs a lot of work, they're still allowing entirely too many back cuts, leading to wide open layups, and their energy to start games hasn't been up to par. Make no mistake though, this was a good win for Houston, especially when you consider they are coming off a back to back and lacked their second best player. Ideally, the Rockets can build off of this and try and string together similar wins in the weeks ahead.

Star of the game: While James Harden looked miserable defensively in the first half, he more than made up for it in the second half and was a consistent offensive performance throughout the game. Harden logged 44 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals on 61.2% true shooting. The notable development though is that he excelled from three-point range tonight (7 of 16 from deep) and that's been a point of struggle for him early on this season. Nobody was expecting Harden to continue shooting so poorly, but the Rockets badly needed him to bounce out of it soon.

Honorable mention: Danuel House shot the ball poorly, but his energy was there for the Rockets all night. House scored 15 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, blocked 3 shots, was active in transition, and maintained his impressive steadiness from the first 6 games of the season. It's really become cliche to talk about how good he's been for the Rockets early on.

Key moment: Houston's third quarter stretch may be the best defense they've played all season. They limited the Grizzlies to 16 points on 8 of 23 shooting and only allowed 6 three-point attempts (no makes). The Rockets would be really well served if they can play two quarters of every game like they played in this third quarter. The energy and effort was present from start to finish.

Up next: The Rockets will return home on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. to play the depleted Golden State Warriors.

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Korey Lee got his first big league at-bat Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The future remains bright for many of the Astros' young talents getting their chance to shine on the big stage. On Friday, the Astros called up their number 2 prospect, Korey Lee, a catcher they drafted 32nd overall in 2019. The move came after Houston moved Jason Castro to the 10-day IL, leaving them with only Martin Maldonado at the position on the active roster.

Catcher of the future?

Lee, a 23-year-old from Escondido, California, has quickly advanced through Houston's farm system. He began his minor-league career in single-A in 2019, then after no season in 2020, he resumed play in 2021, where he quickly moved up to double-A, then ultimately received his promotion to triple-A Sugar Land where he spent the last nine games of the season. In 2022, he's been doing well for the Space Cowboys, most recently hitting .271 in June with a .822 OPS.

He brings to the table what the Astros have sorely needed from their catcher's spot: a decent bat. In his minor-league career thus far, Lee is a .258 hitter with 24 homers and 113 RBI in 801 at-bats. Maldonado and Castro are batting .145 and .115, respectively, a low mark that has unfortunately created a soft spot in an otherwise potent lineup. Should Lee get some decent time behind the plate during Castro's IL stint, and he can produce similar numbers at the major-league level, it will be interesting to see how the Astros navigate the rest of this year and beyond with Castro heading to free agency at the conclusion of 2022.

Javier continues to deal

Meanwhile, Houston has a young pitcher that has blossomed into a bona fide force on the mound recently. Cristian Javier has shown plenty of potential in the last three years, maintaining a respectable ERA whether he's been asked to start or come out of the bullpen. His most recent two starts in particular, though, have been magnificent.

Unless you're disconnected from some of sport's leading headlines, you probably heard that the Astros put together a combined no-hitter against the Yankees on June 25th. Javier was the cornerstone of the accomplishment, holding one of the league's most dangerous lineups without a hit over seven innings of work, before Houston's bullpen backed him up with two more.

He followed that up Friday night against the Angels with another gem, this time allowing just one hit, a first-inning solo homer by Shohei Ohtani, over seven more innings of work. Not only did that bring him to 14 total innings with just one hit, but he has also struck out 27 batters over those fourteen innings, nearly two per inning while issuing just one walk. His stuff has been nearly unhittable, putting an excellent problem in front of the Astros as other pitchers like Jake Odorizzi and, eventually, Lance McCullers Jr. get healthy, and they figure out how to build the best rotation.

More young guns putting in work

Speaking of returns from injury, the Astros were able to have Jake Meyers return to the active roster after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2021 playoffs. He's done well in his seven games so far, most recently going 2-for-4 Friday night with a solo homer and two-RBI single that helped lead the Astros to their 8-1 victory.

Another top prospect putting in rehab work right now is Forrest Whitley, who is somehow still only 24 despite feeling like Houston's most coveted prospect for nearly a decade. He's made three shortened starts so far in 2022 across the lower levels of the minors, giving up three runs in the first game but posting back-to-back games with no runs across five innings of total work. He's set to make his return to triple-A on Monday, making a start for Sugar Land to further test where he stands in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The trade deadline looms

As is the case every year, speculations run rampant regarding what teams are looking to do as the deadline to make trades nears. We are a month away from 2022's deadline of August 2nd, meaning things are starting to ratchet into gear. Teams, like the Astros, will likely be using the month of July to see where their young talent stands, not just for personal gain should they need to make call-ups or fill their roster in the second half of the season, but to have potential bait to lure in partners for deals to bring some veteran talent to a team that might need that extra push.

Houston should absolutely be engaged in talks to improve the team this season while their championship window remains open. But, how much value will they be willing to part with to get it? We should find out within the next month.

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