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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NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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