A loss that doesn't matter

What to take away from Houston's first televised scrimmage

Photo by Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets played their first NBA-sanctioned scrimmage Friday night against the Toronto Raptors and came up short (94-83). Fortunately for Houston, this was an exhibition game and they really let their foot off the gas with guard Russell Westbrook sitting the entire second half and James Harden sitting for the fourth quarter. I have a feeling people aren't going to crucify the Rockets for this one. However, that doesn't mean there aren't things to take away from Houston's first televised game in four months.

1. Russell Westbrook and James Harden look ready to go

His shooting as a whole may have been subpar, but Russell Westbrook looked spectacular in the first half, logging 10 points and 9 rebounds in just 15 minutes. He looked fast, springy, and more importantly, did not look like someone who was recently cleared of COVID-19. As a reminder, COVID-19 can cause breathing problems and lung scarring that can persist after recovery, but if that was the case, Westbrook certainly didn't show it in his first night out.

"He looked pretty athletic, didn't he?" head coach Mike D'Antoni joked after the game. "He must've been working on his athleticism."

Westbrook set the bar low when he returned to practice Wednesday when he suggested that he didn't know whether or not he could make a layup, but he certainly looked as fast and bouncy as ever Friday night.

"I'll be alright," said Westbrook after the game."I'm just trying to make sure that we're in a rhythm as a team. I'll find my way."

Oh, and James Harden looked incredible. Harden only played through three quarters (25 minutes), but he was able to put up 24 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals on 61.9% true shooting. He was making his threes (3 of 7), he was drawing fouls (9 of 10 from the charity stripe), and he was making the extra pass. He looked like James Harden.

The only notable thing is he seemed to make an effort to move the ball a lot Friday night. In fact, the Rockets as a team were doing a pretty good job at moving the ball and finding open three-pointers in transition (16 of first 25 field goals were assisted). It made a fairly meaningless game be pretty entertaining.

This may be seem like a dumb takeaway, but every year, there's a team that starts with their star player(s) out of shape and the Rockets don't have to worry about being that team.

2. Eric Gordon will be the starting small forward

This isn't really a game-specific takeaway, but more of something important to note going forward. There has long been debate as to who would be the better starter this season - Eric Gordon or Danuel House. However, Mike D'Antoni was surprisingly firm when he was asked about who would be the starting small forward pre-game and he maintained that stance post-game.

D'Antoni said he would like to have Gordon play 30 to 32 minutes a game and that it becomes difficult to do that when the 31-year-old guard is resting for the first 6 minutes of every half.

"He only has four minutes of rest in those 36 minutes [left over]," said D'Antoni. "It's just better for him physically that he get on the floor for the first six minutes. I [also] think he's better on the floor with Russell, James, P.J., and Covington."

Gordon didn't have the best first outing (11 points, 4 turnovers, 2 of 8 shooting from three-point range), but he didn't look to be bothered physically which is an encouraging sign considering the knee injuries he's dealt with this season.

For what it's worth, Danuel House looked awesome off the bench, logging 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals on 7 of 11 shooting from the field and 3 of 6 shooting from three-point range. House has had moments this season where he looks surprisingly capable with the basketball in his hands and he had another one of those tonight with a coast-to-coast floater.

3. The Rockets still have a ways to go with their transition defense

Typically, a team as small as the Rockets should find strength in their transition defense. After all, that's one of the benefits of going small in the first place - not having to worry about laboring 7-footers getting back down the court. However, the Rockets were 23rd in points allowed after turnovers and it appears to still be an area of struggle. The Rockets allowed 15 fast break points (6 of 8 from the field) in the first half alone. For the game, they allowed 25 of these points, which would be the worst transition defense in the NBA by a significant margin.

4. The television product was...good? And the teams liked it too

So this was the big question all summer: How would a televised basketball event look without fans? As it turns out, the games have been fine. It helps to have good play-by-play guys on the broadcast to help distract from the noise of squeaky sneakers, but other than that, you're not going to find a complaint from me. Due to the pace, this game was actually one of the more enjoyable ones this week.

And the teams seem to enjoy it too.

"It's about like practice," said Mike D'Antoni. "You hear everything [on the court] and you can talk from the bench and they hear you. You know I was talking to James [Harden] and it's a great atmosphere. It's fun to play there. This is pure basketball and they're hooping."

It's almost surprising that with all the lead up to games without fans, there's been little discussion about how much easier it would be to communicate without crowd noise. Players are chirping at each other, defensive assignments are easier to yell out, and even bench players are able to help quarterback the defense from their spots.

"It's pretty dope," said James Harden after the game. "I think this environment - I didn't know what to expect. Now being here in this enviornment, it's pretty cool."

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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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