Rock Bottom

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets get trounced in Miami 129-100

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets get trounced in Miami 129-100

There is nothing redeemable about this game for Houston. Absolutely nothing.

The best course of action after an embarrassing loss like this is to put your head down and pray you win the next one because that's the only way to cleanse your aura. In possibly one of the more humiliating losses in franchise history, the Rockets went to Miami, dropped a complete dud, and made a mockery of the word 'defense' in the process.

The story of the game will forever be the first quarter, where the Rockets allowed the Heat to score 46 seemingly unimpeded points and only put up 14 themselves. Houston allowed Miami to get a series of backdoor cuts, uncontested three-pointers, and transition opportunities. The onslaught felt endless and it forced Mike D'Antoni to make some drastic substitutions early in the game after introducing his new starting lineup, featuring Eric Gordon at small forward.

While Houston did a much better job at containing the Heat in quarters 2, 3, and 4 (83 points allowed combined), it was already too late. The first quarter deficit was just too much to climb back from and the Rockets could never get their offense rolling. The shooting struggles continued on for Houston as they a putrid 29% (14 of 48) from 3-point range while the Heat were shooting at a combined Stephen-Curry-like clip of 44% (18 of 41).

It's unclear whether or not the shooting struggles and opponent shooting percentage will balance out for the Rockets, but that's beside the point for Houston at the moment. Their defense in transition and off the ball needs to get to a passable level before they begin to point the finger at shooting disparities.

Star of the game: While he wasn't sharp defensively, especially off the ball, James Harden's scoring and drives to the basket are the only reason Houston didn't lose by 60. Harden logged 29 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal in 26 minutes. This included 14 trips to the free throw line where he was a perfect 14 of 14. Due to his poor effort defensively, Harden finished the game a -17.

Honorable mention: While he's not the star of the game, Chris Clemons was the only Rocket you could say with a healthy conscience played well. Clemons posted 14 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block on 4 of 9 shooting from 3-point range. Clemons was a part of the stretch that helped get the Rockets from "unwatchable" to "simply embarrassing" distance. D'Antoni said he'd been trying to find spots to play Clemons and this game may have earned him time on Monday against the Grizzlies.

Key moment: Houston's first quarter was one for the books, literally. The Rockets allowed the Heat to score second most points in franchise opening quarter history and the 32-point differential was the third-largest deficit posted in NBA history after the 1st quarter. Houston allowed 18 points in the paint, 6 second chance opportunities, and turned the ball over 5 times that led to 8 fast break points. It was truly stunning how bad they looked defensively.

Up next: Houston travels to Memphis on Monday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the Grizzlies.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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