The timing of Russell Westbrook's return should come down to this

Composite image by Jack Brame.

Despite Russell Westbrook's absence from the lineup the Rockets have had a fantastic start to their postseason, routing Oklahoma City in game one and then blowing apart a close game two in the fourth quarter. The work isn't done but the Rockets' 17-0 final quarter blitz Thursday had the look of basketball heart surgery. As in cutting out the Thunder's heart. Momentum can be very fickle, but the Rockets winning game two by 13 points when James Harden had a lousy shooting game while Eric Gordon was even worse? Very ominous for OKC. That the Rockets have committed just seven turnovers in each of the first two games is phenomenal.

Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan greased the skids for his team's game two demise with a ridiculous lineup for the first four and a half minutes of the fourth quarter. Having Abdel Nader and Darius Bazley in the game while both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari sat? Billy D was Billy Dunce on that one. The Rockets ripped off 15 straight points before Donovan subbed. Game over.

One certainly should not assume the series is over, but the Rockets do gain some luxury to pad Westbrook's quad recovery time. Maybe he sits the whole first round. At this point I wouldn't play him in this series until or unless the Thunder wins a game at the earliest.

With the Rockets likely to advance, the plot is definitely thicker than one would have imagined a month ago with regard to who wins the 1 vs. 8 matchup that would produce the Rockets' second round opponent. That the Lakers crushed the Trail Blazers to square that best-of-seven at one win apiece doesn't mean the Lakers have restored order and roll the rest of the way. Before the shutdown the Lakers were head and shoulders best in the west. Since resumption in the "bubble" they had been very shaky until Thursday. That they lacked motivation for the eight seeding games is legit. So is that their outside shooting has stunk. The Blazers are good and dangerous though in the end LeBron James and Anthony Davis should still get the Lakers through to round two.

Going streaking

Cap tip to the Astros as they ride an eight game winning streak into San Diego this weekend. They haven't beaten quality teams (Giants, Mariners, Rockies) but eight straight is eight straight, especially given their ever-growing injury toll. What a bummer losing Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman in the same week. The already gimpy-kneed Alvarez lasted two games before a patellar tendon tear ended his 2020 season. Yordan's upside remains David Ortiz-esque, but bum knees at 23 is just sad. Bregman is a short term loss but the best Astro is sidelined 10 days minimum. Bregman will be out through some if not all of next weekend's big Astros-A's series.

The Padres are led by emerging superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. who leads Major League Baseball with 12 home runs and 29 runs batted in over the Padres' 27 games. If a draft of all current leaguers were held, Tatis might be the first pick. Think what Carlos Correa was when he arrived in the Major Leagues. Now think better. Like Correa, Tatis got to the bigs as a 20-year-old. Carlos won American League Rookie of the Year in 2015. Tatis was having a superior debut season before having that season ended by a back injury in mid-August. Injuries have short circuited Correa's expected rise to superstardom. Anyone who likes baseball should root for both Correa and Tatis Jr. to stay in peak health going forward. Quirky stat, the Padres have hit a grand slam in each of their last four games. That's a first in MLB history.

There's no place like Denver for a hitter or hitters to get going. It's an offensive freak show environment. The Rockies at home last season hit .300 as a team. Everywhere else they hit .230. In 2018: .287 at home, .225 on the road. 2017: .298 at mile high altitude, .248 on the road. You get the idea. So that the Astros scored 23 runs in two games there isn't a big deal beyond the big deal that they won both games. Jose Altuve certainly wasn't complaining. His batting average had sagged to a you have to be kidding me .163 before four hits in his last seven at bats at Coors Field. Altuve is now at .190. That he gets going for real takes on added importance in Bregman's absence.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. With games galore that matter going on who misses NFL preseason games whatsoever?

2. Throw out the mere five games he played this season and Stephen Curry's worst season three point percentage is better than Damian Lillard's best season percentage.

3. Worst aches: Bronze-tooth Silver-head Gold-heart

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Houston drops the game to Arizona

D-backs outslug Greinke and Astros to take series opener

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

With the series win over the Rangers by taking two of three games in the middle of the week, the Astros welcomed the Diamondbacks to Minute Maid Park for a three-game weekend series, Houston's final three regular-season home games. Here is how the opener unfolded:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 6, Astros 3.

Record: 25-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zac Gallen (2-2, 3.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luis Garcia (0-1, 2.53 ERA).

Houston scores first, but Arizona grabs a lead against Greinke

Houston would get on the board first on Friday night, with George Springer reaching base in the bottom of the first on an error, moving to second on a walk, then to third on a single, as the Astros loaded the bases with no out to threaten a big inning. Instead, they would come away with just one run, with Springer taking home on a wild pitch, grabbing the 1-0 lead, but leaving runs on the table.

They doubled their lead in the bottom of the third, getting a two-out RBI-double by Kyle Tucker to make it a 2-0 Houston lead. The D-backs responded in the top of the fourth, getting back-to-back singles to lead off the inning before a three-run homer by Kole Calhoun off of Zack Greinke would put Arizona in front, 3-2. Greinke would finish one more inning before Houston would move to their bullpen, striking out the side to bring his total to nine on the night, making the bad fourth inning the one blemish on his night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 89 P.

Astros tie it, but D-backs take the opener

George Springer would get Greinke off the hook in the bottom of the fifth, leading off the half-inning with a solo bomb to tie the game at 3-3. Luis Garcia was first out of Houston's bullpen and retired Arizona in order for a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh but would allow a leadoff single, RBI-triple, and wild pitch to bring in two runs. He would face two more batters, allowing a double and getting a strikeout, before Dusty Baker would come out to get him, now down 5-3.

Blake Taylor would make his return from the IL after Garcia, getting back-to-back outs to finish the inning. He continued on in the 5-3 game in the top of the eighth, but allowed a one-out solo homer to Calhoun, his second of the night and fourth RBI. That made it a 6-3 D-backs lead, which would go final as Houston would go scoreless after Springer's home run back in the fifth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Saturday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70 ERA) for Arizona and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22 ERA) for Houston.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome