Another proper blowout

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Knicks in Houston 123-112

One of the biggest issues with the Rockets at the beginning of the season was entering the season without the appropriate amount of fear against bad teams. Houston would let teams like the Cavaliers stay in it and often blow the game late. However, since the Rockets have resorted to micro-ball, they're 9-2 and they've beaten the bad teams they're supposed to beat (except Phoenix) by considerable margins.

The Rockets are 3-0 since the All-Star break and two of those wins have come against the Warriors and Knicks, two teams well below .500, but also teams that the Rockets may have lost to in January. In fact, they did lose to the Warriors in a high profile matchup on Christmas Day. As Houston continues to strive for a top three seed in the West, this was an important element they were struggling to nail down in the first half of the season.

After attending NBA legend Kobe Bryant's memorial in Los Angeles just a few hours prior to tip-off, this was a tough night for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and P.J. Tucker. Westbrook missed his pregame warmup and ended up being a late scratch due to left thumb soreness, Harden hadn't returned home in three weeks, and Tucker had just lost a loved one a few days prior. Though the opponent was weak, this was undoubtedly an impressive win for the Rockets, considering the circumstances.

Star of the game: James Harden cut through the Knicks defense like a hot knife through butter in the first half (31 points and 5 assists on 12 of 16 shooting from the field). It was really surprising that the Knicks never thought to throw a double team at Harden the entire time he was getting easy drives to the basket for layups. Harden ended the game with 37 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals on 14 of 25 shooting and was 4 of 11 from three-point range.

Honorable mention: Ben McLemore has been on an unbelievable hot streak from deep ever since the All-Star break and he continued it tonight. McLemore had 17 points 4 of 9 shooting from three-point range. As Harden continually collapsed the defense with his drives, McLemore was wide open for three-pointer after three-pointer and the Knicks defense unbelievably kept giving him open shots. Micro ball has helped almost every Rocket on the team, but McLemore certainly looks to be one of the primary beneficiaries.

Key moment: Behind three ball handlers in the offense, Austin Rivers hasn't had the same chance to shine in the offense as he had last year. However, tonight without Russell Westbrook, Rivers had one of his signature stretches of the season at the end of the third quarter where he scored 14 points on 5 of 5 shooting from the field in five minutes after going scoreless up until that point.

Up next: The Rockets take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:00 p.m. in Houston on Wednesday.

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PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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