Stuck in mud

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall to Grizzlies in Memphis 121-110

It's games like this that make buying a lot of stock into the Rockets as serious title contenders difficult. Sure they were on the road and without Russell Westbrook, but Houston still had more than enough talent to defeat this upstart Grizzlies squad.

The Rockets actually started the game with decent intensity, taking a 19-8 lead to in the first 5 minutes. James Harden was rolling (17 points in the first quarter) and Houston was doing just enough to keep a small lead over the Grizzlies. Then, Harden went to the bench, the Rockets completely forgot how to score or defend, and they were completely outmatched by the Grizzlies athleticism (25 transition points allowed).

Outside of Clint Capela, the Rockets had no answer for defending Jonas Valanciunas who ran rough shot over a smaller Rockets team (19 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field). Houston elected to go small with P.J. Tucker at center which may have been a mistake as not only could they not defend Valencias, they also had no rim protection to defend against the constant lob threat Memphis posed.

There's no going around it - this was a bad loss for the Rockets. After a resounding 139-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Houston, they could not bring the same energy against Memphis. They'll have an opportunity to bounce back in Houston against the Trail Blazers in Houston, but it'll be interesting to see how much gas they have left in the tank (Harden and Tucker each played 38 or more minutes each).

Star of the game: Clint Capela was the only Rocket tonight that had a positive plus/minus (+3). Capela logged 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 2 assists on 6 of 7 shooting from the field and 5 of 5 shooting from the free throw line (Capela has only missed 4 free throws in the past 7 games). The Rockets struggled mightily with Capela on the bench as they ad no answer for Jonas Valanciunas (19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block on 8 of 14 shooting).

Honorable mention: If James Harden hadn't shot as poorly as he did tonight, it's like the Rockets win the game and he receives player of the game. Harden had 40 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 block on 13 of 37 shooting from the field and 5 of 19 shooting from three-point range. Harden actually started the game shooting the ball lights out (17 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field and 2 of 3 shooting from three-point range).

Key moment: The Rockets had actually took a commanding lead over the Grizzlies out of the gate (19-8 lead by the 7:32 of the first quarter). Things slowly snowballed from there in the Grizzlies direction as they took a 59-47 lead by the 6:17 of the second quarter. Harden was off, the Rockets couldn't score or defend in the minutes that he was on the bench, and Ja Morant took over the game.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Portland Trail Blazers at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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McCullers Jr. had nine strikeouts over four

McCullers Jr. looks sharp in tune-up before Rangers overpower Houston's bullpen

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite watching their chance to clinch their playoff spot on the field slip away in the walk-off loss on Friday, the Astros benefited from a loss by the Angels later in the night, securing their playoff berth. That meant they could play conservatively in the final two games of the season against the Rangers in Arlington. Here's a quick rundown of Saturday's matchup:

Final Score: Rangers 6, Astros 1.

Record: 29-30, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Jimmy Herget (1-0, 3.20 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Brandon Bielak (3-3, 6.75 ERA).

McCullers Jr. looks playoff-ready 

With nothing substantial to play for, the Astros did not expect to ask Lance McCullers Jr. to go deep into Saturday's game, instead giving him a few innings for a tune-up before assuming whatever role he would play in the post-season. He looked impressive, a promising sign after his injury stint and struggles on the road at points this season.

He finished four innings, during which he racked up a season-high nine strikeouts while giving up no runs on just two hits, both singles, and two walks. His final line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 61 P.

Both teams trade runs as  they go to their bullpens

Meanwhile, neither team was getting much going at the plate in the early goings, keeping it a scoreless game through the first five. Brandon Bielak took over for McCullers Jr. starting in the fifth but would allow the first run of the night in the bottom of the sixth as the Rangers would get three singles to take a 1-0 lead.

After Kyle Gibson held the Astros at bay for six innings, Houston would get on the board against Texas' bullpen, getting a leadoff double by Aledmyz Diaz in the top of the seventh. Diaz moved to third on a sac bunt, then scored on a sac fly by Jack Mayfield, making it 1-1.

Rangers blow it open in the seventh

The tie didn't last long, as Bielak would put two on base in the bottom of the seventh before giving up a three-run homer to make it a 4-1 Rangers lead. Andre Scrubb was next out of Houston's bullpen and allowed a solo home run on his first pitch. Scrubb would complete the inning, but not before allowing another run on three singles to push Texas' lead to 6-1.

Cy Sneed was next out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth and tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Houston would not make the unlikely comeback in the top of the ninth, with the Rangers taking the game 6-1.

Up Next: The last game of the Astros' 2020 regular season will be Sunday at 2:05 PM Central, as are most other games on the MLB slate on the league's final regular-season day. Houston's starter is TBD as they will continue to preserve their arms for the best-of-three first round that starts on Tuesday, while Texas will send Jordan Lyles (1-6, 7.08 ERA) to the mound.

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