Are the Rockets title contenders?

Here's where the Rockets stand with the NBA returning

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Since the Rockets were given four months off because of COVID-19, this allowed the team to rest. This was basically a new team from last season. Players like Westbrook and Covington were still trying to get adjusted to the offense in Houston. Covington was averaging 12.8 PPG and Westbrook was averaging 27.5 PPG before the season came to a halt.

Another important factor is Eric Gordon and James Harden have lost a tremendous amount of weight. This will allow them to be more mobile on the court. Both players have put on a good amount of muscle in their careers in Houston. Harden has not been this slim since playing for the Thunder and his early days with the Rockets. When Harden was slimmer, he was much more athletic. Meaning his vertical was higher, and he was able to get down the court much faster.

The Rockets want to be much faster and in better shape for an eight-game regular season. Since it looks like Adam Sliver, NBA Commissioner, still wants to the finish the NBA season. This will allow teams below or at .500 to still make the playoffs.

Now the Rockets chances at the NBA Finals are still high because of Harden and Westbrook. These two started to click before COVID-19 shut the season down. The Rockets main two road blocks to the NBA Finals are the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers. Against both opponents they are a combined 3-3.

When it comes to playing the Lakers, the Rockets have shown their strengths and weakness. How the Rockets can beat the Lakers is beating them down the court with their quickness and perimeter shooting. The Lakers were not able to keep up with the Rockets small-ball rotation because of their big man. The Rockets were able to spread out Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee to the corners. This allowed Westbrook and Harden to attack the basket without seeing any rim protectors. When the Rockets can attack the basket, this allows shooters like Eric Gordon to get open. This can also affect the Lakers rebounding abilities as well.

Now, what could hurt the Rockets is when they are not making their shots. The Lakers could take advantage of the Rockets small-ball rotation by allowing Davis to post up P.J. Tucker more often. That team feeds off of a great defense because they are top five in that category.

The Clippers would be more of a problem than the Lakers because they match up better. Even though the Clippers do not have a small-ball rotation when it comes to their starting five, Doc Rivers can create one throughout the game. They have an amazing backcourt made of scoring and defense. The reason for that is because of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers also have one of the best sixth men of all-time, Lou Williams. But we can not forget about Westbrook's favorite friend, Patrick Beverley. Beverley is a two-time member of the all-defensive team in the NBA. Finally, another player that can give the Rockets problems is Montrezl Harrell.

The Rockets number one issue with the Clippers is maintaining the lead. Changing scores with the Clippers is a bad situation. They are the best at slowing the game down and playing great defense. The Clippers are good at getting everybody involved on the court. That is when they are the most dangerous.

The way the Rockets can beat the Clippers is by becoming the better team. Meaning, Harden and Westbrook must be perfect. It is also important that the Rockets' supporting cast is helpful. When the whole team can score, the Rockets become more dangerous. The Clippers did dismantle the Rockets' small-ball rotation the last time they played against each other, and the last time the Rockets beat the Clippers, was when they still had Clint Capela. The Rockets are 2-2 against the Clippers.

The best way to beat the Clippers is with fast breaks and pace. Not many teams can keep up with the Rockets. If the Rockets play fast, it becomes extremely hard for teams like the Lakers and Clippers to keep up. That is how the Rockets can make it to the Finals.

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After the big offensive showing to take the opener on Thursday, the Astros entered Friday's game at Globe Life Field against the Rangers just one win or Angels loss away from securing their spot in the playoffs. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (10 innings): Rangers 5, Astros 4.

Record: 29-29, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brett Martin (1-1, 1.98 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-3, 3.05 ERA).

Urquidy goes seven while allowing two

The Rangers would strike first in Friday's game, getting a two-out solo home run against Jose Urquidy in the bottom of the second to grab the early 1-0 lead. Urquidy did relatively well on the night, though he would allow another solo homer in the bottom of the fifth. Those were the only two runs he allowed, working in and out of some trouble throughout the game on his way to finishing seven innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 98 P.

Houston grabs their first lead late

Unlike their hot night at the plate the night prior, it took the Astros until the fifth inning to get on the board. It came after Carlos Correa hit a leadoff single, then came all the way around to score on an RBI-triple by George Springer, making it a 1-1 tie at the time.

After the Rangers went back in front 2-1 in the bottom of the inning on their second solo homer of the night, Alex Bregman would tie it up again with a solo home run of his own, making it 2-2. Houston would get their first lead of the night in the top of the eighth, with Altuve working a leadoff walk before scoring later in the inning on an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel.

Rangers get the walk-off to keep Houston waiting for playoff bid

After Urquidy, Blake Taylor would take over on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, retiring the Rangers in order for a scoreless inning to hold the one-run lead. Still 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Houston turned to their closer, Ryan Pressly. After two quick outs, he would allow a game-tying solo home run, making it 3-3 to postpone Houston's celebration at least another inning as the game headed to extras.

In the top of the tenth, Jose Altuve was placed on second as the free runner. He advanced to third on a groundout to start the inning, then scored on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it a 4-3 lead for Houston. Enoli Paredes would load the bases before Texas would tie the game on a sac fly in the bottom of the inning, keeping runners on second and third. Houston made the change to Brooks Raley to try and extend the game another inning, but instead, the Rangers would get the walk-off win, spoiling Houston's chance to clinch their playoff spot themselves with a win.

Up Next: The third game of this four-game set will get underway at 6:05 PM Central on Saturday. On the mound for Texas will be Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87 ERA), and, as of now, the Astros still have Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA) listed as their starter.

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