Much needed

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets snap four-game losing streak with win over Timberwolves in Houston 117-111

If the NBA had a dictionary for overused terms, a picture of this Rockets boxscore would fall under "must-win". There was no universe in which the Rockets could lose this game and then go into the Staples Center with any chance of competing. They just wouldn't have the confidence to be able to do anything against one of the league's premier title contenders.

So it was good for Houston that James Harden remembered he was James Harden and absolutely dominated in the way we've all become accustomed to him doing. Harden's slump was indicative of the team's brief identity problem. It's not that the team didn't have an identity, it's that they forgot what it was for four games. The Rockets have settled into the fact that they aren't going to win games on the defensive glass or playing with size. They're identity is switching everything effectively on defense, driving and kicking to open shooters all around the floor, and generating transition offense to make up for what's not present in the middle.

Eric Gordon's return was huge tonight as an emotional boost for Houston. Gordon only scored 16 points on 15 field goal attempts, but his aggressiveness to take open three-pointers and drive to the rim, both in the halfcourt and in transition, is exactly what the Rockets needed.

Tonight, Houston displayed that with their three-point shooting finally settling into place (15-38 or 39.5% from downtown) and forcing 18 Minnesota turnovers. For Houston to try and get a top-three seed to close the season, they have to recognize that this is what they are and not deviate from it. This means they can't hesitate from three-point range like they've been prone to the past week or settle into half-court rock fight with opponents. They have to play like the Rockets.

Star of the game: For the first time in a very long time, James Harden looked like James Harden. Harden logged 37 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 11 of 19 shooting from the field, 5 of 10 shooting from three-point range, and 10 of 14 shooting from the free throw line. He looked confident, his body language was as good as it's ever been, he was engaged on both ends of the floor, and his shots finally started to fall. He looked like the perennial MVP candidate the Rockets have touted out there for the past three seasons.

Honorable mention: Although Harden was clearly the better player, Russell Westbrook was also very good for Houston tonight. Westbrook tallied 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals on 11 of 17 shooting from the field and 5 of 6 shooting from three-point range. His energy was much needed when the Rockets were trying to finally take a lead over the Timberwolves in the third quarter and eventually was able to lead Houston over the finish line in the final two minutes.

Key moment: The key moment for Houston was clearly the final 3:06 where Houston went on a 14-3 run to take the lead over Minnesota and shift the momentum back in their favor. Russell Westbrook scored or assisted on 10 of the 14 final points, including the Austin Rivers three-pointer that ended up giving Houston the lead. It honestly felt like the Rockets had been woken up from a four-game slumber.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday to take on the Lakers.

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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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