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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The Astros have now lost five straight games and the starting pitching and bullpen have let them down over that stretch. Cristian Javier was recently demoted to help him build up his stamina so that he can pitch deeper in games as the team's 5th starter when the schedule demands a 5-man starting rotation. But in the meantime, the Astros could desperately use his help out of the bullpen, and he's likely headed for relief duty when Framber Valdez returns from injury anyway. So this begs the question, is a role as the team's fifth starter the best way to maximize Javier's abilities? Check out the video to find out.

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