Super Small Ball

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Mavericks in Houston 128-121

This may not go down as one of the more exciting Rockets' games this season, but it's certainly a noteworthy one considering how much the Rockets experimented with small ball units. For 48 minutes, the Rockets did not play a traditional center once and for the most part, found a lot of success in playing this way. For the first three quarters, the Rockets played well enough defensively to build a huge lead and throughout the game, the Rockets had solid scoring opportunity after opportunity due to the amount of space they had to work with.

Though fans may be upset that backup center Isaiah Hartenstein didn't play tonight, the players seemed to really enjoy playing without a big clogging the lane. Russell Westbrook and James Harden got clean looks for most of the game, but especially in the third quarter, where Houston scored 36 points on 14 of 26 shooting from the field and 4 of 11 from three-point range.

"It's real fun though," said Danuel House about the small units. "The ball has a lot of energy and the defensive intensity is super high, so I enjoy it."

An interesting development to watch is Thabo Sefolosha at the backup center. Sefolosha hasn't played significant minutes for most of the season, but Houston's finally found a role for him, as unconventional as it might be. Sefolosha played 14 minutes tonight and the Rockets didn't fair too bad in that time (+4).

Though Houston got killed on the boards with Kristaps Porzingis dominating the paint (35 points and 12 rebounds on 12 of 20 shooting from the field), Houston clearly made the calculated decision to forgo these disadvantages for the offensive advantages that they took advantage of tonight.

Star of the game: When James Harden is playing well, there are few weapons you'd like to have with a spaced floor like the Rockets had tonight. After being in a slump for much of January, Harden erupted for 35 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals on 10 for 25 shooting from the field, 6 for 14 shooting from three-point range, and 9 for 10 shooting from the free throw line. Harden made an effort to be aggressive early in the game, attempting seven field goals in the first quarter alone.

Honorable mention: It's becoming a regular occurance for Russell Westbrook to have games like this, but it's still impressive nonetheless. Westbrook had 32 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 13 of 28 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. More than anyone on the team, Westbrook benefits from a spread floor. Houston had plenty of driving lanes and he took advantage of them, in transition and in the half court.

Key moment: The Rockets had their best stretch in the game in the third quarter, where they outscored the Mavericks 36 to 25. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had some of their best stretches as a duo in this quarter and together combined for 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field. Westbrook really got going in transition, found teammates (4 assists), and got to the rim himself (12 points on 6 of 8 shooting).

Up next: The Rockets play the New Orleans Pelicans in Houston at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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