Rockets survive 119-111

3-pointers from Rockets versus Hawks

Tim Warren/Getty Images

Fresh off their weekend victory against the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets geared up Monday night to take on the Atlanta Hawks. With James Harden returning to the court after missing Saturday's contest with a neck injury, the 20-40 Hawks looked to be an easy early week victory. Instead, the Rockets found themselves in a four quarter brawl. Each time the Houston built a double digits lead, Atlanta would counter with a barrage of 3s. Houston would ultimately win a game that was far more competitive than most would have expected, pushing their record to 35-25. The Rockets remain first in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference.

The Trae Young Clinic

You never want your team to be on the business end of an opponent's career high scoring night. That sentiment is exponentially more resonant when the opponent is a rookie who almost drops a 40 piece on the Rockets. Trae Young, the Hawks' first year guard out of Oklahoma, single handedly kept Atlanta competitive throughout the contest as he poured in 36 points and 8 assists. Channeling his inner Steph Curry, Young shot 8-12 from beyond the arc while attacking the rim at will. As the season has progressed, it's become clear that there were no losers following the draft day Luka Doncic/Trae Young swap between the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. Both rookies look poised to remain solid contributors for their respective teams.

Reason for pause

Reigning MVP James Harden's unreal streak of 32 straight 30+ point performances came to an end Monday night, as the All Star finished with a workmanlike 28 on the evening. The writing was on the wall that the streak would be ending soon now that the Rockets were finally healthy. At least that's what the injury report implies. What can't be argued, however, is a noticeable downturn in Harden's shooting since straining his shoulder earlier this month against Oklahoma City. Since then Harden has shot 16-59 (27%) from behind the arc, including a 0-10 three-point performance last night versus the Hawks. Had one of his 3s dropped, Harden's streak would still be alive. Hopefully it's something as simple as a shooting slump, but it's worth keeping an eye on either way as the season winds down.

Cold from beyond

Harden's 0-10 night from beyond the arc was concerning, but he was hardly alone in his struggle. While Atlanta was busy burying 44.7% of their shots from three point range, Houston sputtered. The 15-51 team effort was a major reason Atlanta was able to keep up with Houston. The Rockets made up for their rough shooting at the foul line however, where they connected on 26-30 free throws.

Rockets Player of the Game

James Harden: 28 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds

Hawks Player of the Game

Trae Young: 36 points, 8 assists

Up next

The Rockets travel to Charlotte Wednesday to take on the Hornets (28-32) at 6:00 pm central.

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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