Not pretty, but it counts

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Nets in Houston 108-98

If you were looking for the Rockets to dissect a .500 team with a buzzer-to-buzzer blowout, this wasn't the game. However, if you were looking for Houston to bounce back from their ugly loss against Golden State on Christmas, at the very least, you got that.

"It wasn't pretty," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "We got some things we definitely got to get better at."

It wasn't that Houston was bad tonight, but their effort was inconsistent to say the least. The Rockets began the game on fire on both ends, taking a 42-20 lead to end the first quarter. However, as they continued to miss shots, their effort started to taper off.

Westbrook had a lot to do with Houston's early lead, but unfortunately for Houston, he was also responsible for a lot of the missed shots. In the first quarter, Westbrook scored 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting, 6 of those 7 field goals coming from mid-range. However, those same shots didn't fall for the rest of the game as Westbrook was 4 of 19 from the field for the rest of the game.

As the Nets got creative against Harden, shooters like P.J. Tucker (0 for 5 from three-point range), Danuel House (2 of 10 from three-point range), and Ben McLemore (1 of 6 from three-point range) could not take advantage of the open looks they were receiving, leaving an opening for the Nets to climb back into the game.

"We had a lot of open opportunities that we just didn't make," said Harden. "Tuck had some, D-House had some, Ben had some. If we make those shots, it's a different ball game earlier."

In Houston's defense, they were also without Clint Capela (right heel contusion) and Eric Gordon (right knee arthroscopy) which disrupted their floor spacing tonight. Although the Rockets will be without Russell Westbrook (scheduled to miss the second half of this back-to-back), Gordon will return to the rotation and give Houston a fresh body and floor spacing element that they've been lacking.

"It's another shooter and another ball handler," said Harden on Gordon's pending return. "A guy that can be aggressive and make plays. It's a little of what we're missing."

Star of the game: The Nets threw various defenses at James Harden including single man-to-man coverage, a trap, and box and one. However, it was ultimately fruitless as Harden ended the game with 44 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal on 17 of 27 shooting from the field and 6 of 10 shooting from three-point range. Coming off a game in which he was limited to 24 points, Harden was quite simply, brilliant.

Honorable mention: After being fairly quiet for a week, Austin Rivers had one of his better games of the year, scoring 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 shooting from three-point range. Rivers hit a couple of key shots when the Rockets allowed the Nets to get back into the game and was good defensively tonight.

Key moment: After the Nets took a 90-89 lead with 8:55 remaining in the 4th quarter, Houston battled back with an 18-8 run of their own to end the 4th quarter with James Harden scoring or assisting on 9 of those points.

Up next: The Rockets travel to New Orleans at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow to play the Pelicans.

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Jose Urquidy is a surprising choice to start Game 2. Photo by Getty Images.

After a long and tumultuous season, the Houston Astros made it to their 3rd World Series in five years and will take on the Atlanta Braves Tuesday night.

Houston had the better overall regular season record, so games 1 & 2 will be played at Minute Maid Park while games 3-5 will be held at Truist Park in Atlanta.

(If necessary, the final two contests will be played back at Minute Maid Park).

The Braves got this far by defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in the ALDS 3-1 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games (4-2).

Atlanta prevailed with timely hitting from guys like Joc Pederson, Austin Riley and Eddie Rosario performing like an MVP this postseason.

The Braves received solid pitching outings from guys like Ian Anderson, Max Fried and former Astro Charlie Morton.

Atlanta used clutch hitting and solid pitching to make to their first World Series since 1999.

Meanwhile, the Astros made it back to the World Series by defeating the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS 3-1 and out-slugged the Red Sox four games to two.

According to Fox Bet, the Astros are favored at -154 to win the World Series. This is certainly an obtainable goal for Houston's team as they have the experience, hitting and pitching to compete with anyone.

Can Houston's bats stay hot?

The most intriguing matchup this series will be the Astros' bats facing off against this Braves pitching staff. On paper, Houston's lineup seems to be favored for their depth. Jose Altuve at the top of the batting order is always a threat to get on base, and behind him are a plethora of hitters who can drive in multiple runs.

The two best bats this postseason thus far for the Astros are ALCS MVP Yordan Alvarez (.522 batting average) and this year's American League batting title champion Yuli Gurriel (.455 batting average). The Cuban natives have lit up pitching and will look to continue their torrid hitting in the World Series.

Other Astros who could be impactful at the plate against the Braves include Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. All three of their batting average's in the .200's respectfully and could come up big at any time.

This lineup is so deep, Atlanta's pitchers won't receive many breaks, if at all this series.

Will the pitching step up again?

Losing Lance McCullers Jr. for the World Series certainly isn't ideal, but not impossible to overcome as proven in the ALCS against the Red Sox.

Framber Valdez pitched the best game of his career when he threw 8 innings and surrendered only one run in Game 3, while Luis Garcia had his best start of the postseason and received the Game 6 win. Both of these pitchers have stepped up in McCullers' absence and will have a huge impact on the series. Valdez is set to start Game 1 on Tuesday night.

If Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinke can also pitch deeper into games, there will be less stress on the bullpen and give the Astros a better chance to stay in games. And we won't have to wait long to see Urquidy, as he will start Game 2, according to Astros manager Dusty Baker.

In an ideal scenario, the Astros' starting pitchers should throw six innings of work and let Kendall Graveman, Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly closeout games as they have all season.

Of course this is the best-case scenario, which doesn't always happen, but other arms can be used to bridge the gaps that include Phil Maton, Yimi Garcia in short relief outings and Cristian Javier and Jake Odorizzi can pitch multiple innings if needed.

Even if a starter has a clunker of a start, this bullpen has done a great job of keeping things close and setting up the Astros for success.

Will this be Carlos Correa's "Last Dance" with Astros?

One can only imagine what is going on in Carlos Correa's mind right now. No one is implying that the free agent to be will not be focused this series, but it's hard to fathom this upcoming offseason isn't a distraction right now.

The 27-year-old shortstop is set to receive multiple offers from different teams and land one of the richest contracts once this season concludes.

If this truly is his final season with the Astros, why not go out on top and win one more title before moving on?

Let's hope this "Last Dance" for Correa is a slow one, so we can all enjoy it a little longer.

Will Dusty's experience prove to be a difference-maker?

Dusty Baker's experience could be beneficial for Houston's chances of hoisting another trophy as he has managed teams in parts of 24 seasons.

He's the only skipper to ever lead five franchises to the postseason and obtain more than 2,000 career victories.

This is the second time he as taken a club to the World Series. He took the 2002 San Francisco Giants to the Fall Classic but lost to the Angels in seven games.

It's safe to assume the 72-year-old seems eager to win his first championship as a manager to cap off a Hall of Fame career.

Final projection

As previously mentioned, the Astros are favored to win this series. If Houston can continue to stay hot at the plate, receive solid outings from their pitchers and just play Astros baseball, there is a good chance this city will have yet another Commissioner's Trophy in their display case.

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