Rockets win 120-104

3-pointers from Rockets versus Mavericks

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The Houston Rockets hosted the Dallas Mavericks Monday night looking to notch their first win of the season series after dropping the previous two. The Rockets leaned on the 3-point shot as they have all season to run away with lead early and held on throughout to secure the blowout victory. Houston remains first in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference.

Supporting cast

Monday night proved that with their continuously improving health and depth the Rockets are growing tougher and tougher to beat as the season wears on. While favoring a tweaked shoulder from Saturday's game, James Harden remained effective by distributing around the arc. His teammates made the most of their opportunities, nailing 16 3-pointers en route to the 16-point victory. Houston finished with big nights from Gerald Green (19 points), Eric Gordon (18 points), Chris Paul (17 points), and Kenneth Faried (17 points).

Streak continued

While the game itself lacked drama, the subplot of Harden's consecutive 30+ point game streak was anything but. It was apparent throughout the night that The Beard was far less interested in the streak as he was the win and it showed through his 7 assists. It wasn't until late in the game when the game was all but decided that Harden chose to keep the streak alive. With less than a minute left, he buried a three to continue the streak, pulling him within one game of second place for the longest such streak in NBA history.

CP3 passes the Glove

Chris Paul turned in a promising 17 point, 11 assist night along with a 5-10 performance from beyond the arc. In doing so, he passed Gary Payton for eighth all time on the NBA assist leaderboard. Paul has looked much more like last season's version of himself in the past two games, which will prove pivotal to any run the Rockets may go on after the all-star break.

Rockets Player of the Game

James Harden: 31 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 steals

Mavericks Player of the Game

Luka Doncic: 21 points, 8 assists, 10 rebounds

Last Shot

As the dust settles and the buyout market picture sharpens into focus, one name to keep an eye on is Markieff Morris. Having been bought out by the Pelicans after being traded to from the Wizards, the 6' 10" power forward is expected to choose a new team sometime this week. The Rockets, Lakers, and Raptors have each expressed interest. Morris is a versatile big that brings both range and defense that could help spell starting forward PJ Tucker, as well as space the floor for easier driving attempts for Harden, Paul, and Gordon.

Up next:

The Rockets travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Wednesday at 7 p.m. central.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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