Sluggish effort

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall to Trail Blazers in Portland 125-112

After winning three out of their last four games, it really started to feel Houston was started to turn it around as a team. However, Wednesday night's effort in Portland showed otherwise. It's not just that the Rockets lose, it's how they lost. Porous transition defense, not closing out on shooters, and lazy fouling lead to a defensive rating of 117.5 for the Rockets tonight.

The Trail Blazers are not a good enough basketball team to make the Rockets look this lost defensively on national television. Effort starts from the top and works it's way down and that's probably the best place to begin with this: James Harden. In addition to continuing to look out of it offensively (18 points on 5 of 18 shooting from the field, 6 turnovers), Harden has reverted to levels of defense he was mocked for five years ago.

This really started before the thigh injury he suffered last week and has continued after the injury. Perhaps it's fair to give Harden some more time to get back into rhythm and feeling like himself after missing two games, but if things continue in the direction they've gone, Houston is in real trouble of playing their first round playoff series on the road.

Star of the game: In addition to being one of the few Rockets who gave a strong effort tonight, Russell Westbrook was really the only reason this wasn't a 30-point blowout. Westbrook had 39 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block on 16 for 29 shooting from the field. Westbrook took the reigns of the offense while Harden was mostly non-aggressive.

Honorable mention: After moving back to the bench, Ben McLemore had a fantastic outing, scoring 17 points in just 22 minutes. McLemore as 5 of 8 from three-point range and looked very comfortable in his new role. With a neon green light to shoot and no pressure to defend at a high level off the bench, this is ultimately the best role for for McLemore. The Rockets lost, but he was very good as a seventh man.

Key moment: It really started to pour down against the Rockets in the second quarter where they were outscored 41 to 24. The star players for both teams told the story as while James Harden greatly struggled (4 points, 1 for 3 from the field), Damian Lillard torched the Rockets (9 points, 2 of 4 shooting from the field). The Rockets also greatly struggled from beyond the arc (5 for 15 from three-point range).

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston at 6:30 p.m. on Friday to take on the Dallas Mavericks.

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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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