Rock bottom

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets lose to Lakers in Houston 124-115

The Rockets have had a number of must-win games this season, but this was one was at the top of the list. Having had two team "discussions" going into tonight, Houston's team morale going into this one was questionable at best. A win over the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers could have certainly helped spark some momentum that they desperately need right now.

Houston actually started this game the appropriate fear, but that seemed to dissipate as the game went along, particularly in the third quarter where things went completely arry for the Rockets. In addition to poor shooting (1 of 11 from three-point range), the Rockets turned the ball over 6 times, made silly fouls to compound their mistakes, and could not seem to defend the Lakers in transition.

"We just didn't make plays," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "Then we turned it over a couple times, they got out on the break. We ran them the first half and they upped their pace and ran us the second half."

The Rockets had as many turnovers (20) as assists tonight. This is the worst team to do that against as the Lakers are 10-0 when forcing 20+ turnovers this season.

There's little doubt that this was a make-or-break game for the Rockets given that they lost 3 out of their last 4 before tonight, but it is up to them on if they'll actually break. Publicly, they've kept a brave face, but talk is cheap. There needs to be concrete improvement they can to point to and aside from the first 24 minutes of tonight's game, that's been hard to find.

Star of the game: Despite the poor team play, Russell Westbrook has held his own as of late. Tonight, Westbrook had 35 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals on 15 of 23 shooting from the field. Westbrook has had at least 30 points and 5 assists in each of the Rockets' last four games.

Honorable mention: His defense wasn't great tonight, but James Harden did find a way to also fill the stat sheet in Houston's loss. Harden was dealing with an aggressive Lakers trap all night, but still managed to get 34 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 block on 60.9% true shooting tonight. Again, I'm sure Harden himself wouldn't put this among his proudest performances however.

Key moment: The Rockets were playing really great in the first half on both ends. James Harden was deferring because of Los Angeles' traps, Russell Westbrook was rolling (22 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field), and Clint Capela was playing very well defensively (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a +/- of +9). Things completely for turned for Houston in the third quarter, however. Technical fouls were flying, offensive fouls were being drawn on both ends, and the Rockets lost the lead in the chaos of the opening minutes. Offensively, the Rockets were atrocious in the third quarter (17 points scored on 1 of 11 shooting from three-point range) and defensively, the Lakers ran the ball down Houston's throat.

Up next: The Rockets play the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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