Tough time functioning

Why are the Rockets scared to play basketball without James Harden?

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James Harden can find his shot whenever on the court. He is averaging 38.1 points per game which is first in the league. Harden was criticized for not taking enough shots on Christmas Day. But, is it really Harden's fault why the Rockets lost that game against the Warriors? No, because his teammates should pick up the slack!

Russell Westbrook has looked great for nine straight games but struggled Christmas Day against the Warriors. At times it looks Westbrook is playing in panic mode instead of attack mode. He struggled with or without Harden on the court. Westbrook still needs to work on his confidence even when shots are not falling. Another thing Westbrook still struggles with is forcing shots that are not there. Westbrook must stay courageous, optimistic, aware, and know to pick his moments.

Danuel House must make shots when they matter. House shoots over 40% from the field but struggles when his number is called. Harden would love to see House make those shots when doubled late in games. The only way House can become a great player is when he shows up in big moments. If House wants to be a spot up shooter, he can not shoot 35% from the three-point line.

Austin Rivers can be a tough watch at times because of the talent he is hiding. Rivers has everything in his repertoire to become a great player. He honestly has a good-looking crossover and shooting form in the NBA. It is just sad that he never displays it in game play. Rivers shooting the ball less than 15 times a game is a crime. Sometimes it looks like Rivers is scared to touch the ball. There is no reason for Rivers just to make himself a spot up shooter in games. Rivers is averaging 8 points per game which is an underachievement for his skill set. It is extremely important for Rivers to step up more when Harden gets doubled. He has the talent to compete for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year every season.

Ben McLemore had his bright spots this season but can not stay consistent. By McLemore not staying consistent means he is non-existent in games. There are times earlier this season when he struggled to get minutes or score zero points. This could hurt the Rocket's bench in a dramatic way. He can continue to be the bright spot for the Rockets when confident. McLemore is averaging 10.2 points per game this season. He has not averaged this much since his second season with the Kings. He had a career high against Toronto with 35 points. One thing McLemore must do is make plays when shots are not falling. When McLemore stays active defensively, he becomes a problem for other teams. He has finally found his NBA home with the Rockets.

The Rockets rank dead last in bench play this season. This bench is also shooting right under 40% on the season. If the Rockets want a chance to compete for an NBA Championship, the bench must be better. Daryl Morey could make possible moves for free agents or trades to help the cause.

NOTE: Eric Gordon comes back Tuesday versus the Pelicans.

Jeff Green just cleared waivers with the Utah Jazz. He could be helpful to the bench if Morey decides to pick him up.

Rockets just signed William Howard from the G-League. He is a 6'8 lengthy shooter.

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Houston gets another victory in Anaheim

Astros overpower Angels again as magic number dwindles

Kyle Tucker had 3 of Houston's RBI on Tuesday night, including a two-run homer. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

After a beatdown of the Angels on Monday in the opener, the Astros entered Tuesday's game looking to replicate that success. Though Los Angeles would put up more of a fight, Houston still used their potent offense to keep the game out of reach.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 90-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (8-3)

Losing Pitcher: Packy Naughton (0-3)

Houston's bats keep connecting to back up Urquidy

The Astros picked up on Tuesday's game where they left off on Monday, launching homers to take and extend a lead. A leadoff walk by Carlos Correa in the top of the second set up Kyle Tucker, who drove a two-run shot. Aledmys Diaz was next, making it back-to-back jacks to push the new lead to 3-0.

That gave Jose Urquidy a lead to work with, which came in handy as former Astro Jack Mayfield cut the lead to two runs with a leadoff solo homer in the bottom of the second. Other than that, Urquidy did well through five innings, allowing just two other hits over that span. LA got to him in the sixth, getting two singles to set up a three-run homer to end his night. His final line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 79 P.

The runs keep coming

He would still leave in line for the win, though, as before that bottom of the sixth, the Astros had put up seven more runs across the fifth and sixth. A leadoff walk in the top of the fifth was followed by a two-run homer by Jose Altuve, then later in the frame, an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz made it 7-1. They pushed that to double digits in the sixth, with a leadoff solo shot by Martin Maldonado, a sac fly by Carlos Correa, and an RBI groundout by Kyle Tucker, putting them up 10-1 before the homer allowed by Urquidy cut that to 10-4.

Astros win to reduce magic number again

In the sixth, Cristian Javier took over for Urquidy, finished that inning, and returned for a scoreless seventh. He ran into Shohei Ohtani to lead off the bottom of the eighth and left a fastball in the zone, which Ohtani turned around 445 feet to make it a five-run game. Javier still got through the inning, leaving just the ninth for Houston's second reliever of the night, Josh James. James would get through a scoreless inning, erasing a leadoff walk as the lopsided win paired with an A's loss reduces Houston's magic number to 4.

Up Next: The third of this four-game series will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Wednesday. Janson Junk (0-1, 2.25 ERA) will make his third career start for the Angels, while Luis Garcia (11-7, 3.37 ERA) will have the ball for the Astros.

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