Rocket Science

How the Rockets small-ball rotation keeps working

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Even though the Rockets got out rebounded this past weekend by the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks, they still came out victorious. With the small-ball rotation, the Rockets are 8-2 against the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Rockets are suffering on the rebounding side, but this offense has allowed them to score more points. They are much faster in transition because of Robert Covington and Jeff Green. This team can spread the floor more because of the space. This allows their shooters to get more open. With having Russell Westbrook on the Rockets, he can create plays for wide open shooters. As defensive zones collapse on Westbrook, he is able to get the ball out to James Harden, Ben McLemore, and PJ Tucker.

Before the All-Star break, the Rockets were averaging 118.2 points per game and their winning percentage was .630%. After the break, including bubble play, the Rockets are averaging 121 points per game and winning percentage is now .667% because of the small man rotation.

The Rockets are ranked number one in offensive scoring in the NBA. They put up 42 points in the first quarter against the Mavericks last Friday. The Rockets scored a total of 153 points to beat the Mavericks in overtime. They outscored the second highest team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, to get win on Sunday night. The Rockets went on a 14-6 run with three minutes left in the game. Their best weapon as a team, is to outscore the opposing opponent.

With the Rockets small-ball rotation, they are able wear defenses down. Harden and Westbrook are always playing Mike D'Antoni's system at a high tempo. The Rockets are ranked third in transition offense this season. This allows them win close games because the other team is tired.

Daryl Morey about a week ago cracked a joke on the Denver Nuggets big man starting five.

Morey even still feels confident about the smallball rotation. He made a great statement on July 15, 2020. He believes it is helping Westbrook a lot.

"Obviously, we're playing small but people forget that unlocked Russell a lot on the offensive end and James on the offensive end. But it also unlocked us on the defensive end. Not many guards average in their career multiple times over 10 rebounds a game," as Morey explained to Anthony Duckett of FanSided. "And the fact that Eric [Gordon] is thick and strong and James allows us to play this way. Everyone makes it sounds like it's a gimmick but really [it’s]the best way to play. And what I love about coach [D'Antoni] is that he recognizes that and is able to optimize that."

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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