Fred VanVleet leads Rockets to sixth straight victory over Nuggets

Fred VanVleet leads Rockets to sixth straight victory over Nuggets
Another win for Houston! Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

HOUSTON (AP) — Fred VanVleet scored 26 points and Alperen Sengun added 23 to lead the Houston Rockets to a 107-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Houston’s six-game winning streak is the longest since January 2021.

Nikola Jokic had his fourth triple-double of the season, racking up 36 points, 21 rebounds and 11 assists in the loss.

Jokic hit a 3 with 19.1 seconds remaining to cut Houston’s lead to 103-102. He had a full-court shot at the buzzer to tie it but fell short.

The Nuggets entered the game 8-1, their best start since the 2018-19 season. Houston improved to 6-3 after starting the season 0-3.

“We’re getting better,” VanVleet said. “We can feel the trend trending upward, we’re trying to get more things done that the coaches are asking us to do, and we’re executing at a higher and higher level each time out.”

Rockets veteran Jeff Green hit a big 3 with 1:49 left in the fourth, putting Houston up 103-94. Green appeared in all 20 playoff games during Denver’s championship run last season. Green scored 15 points off the bench Sunday.

“He obviously made big shots and was attacking the basket,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “But also, all week, he had a ton of advice and experience, and he was out there being the quarterback on defense, calling out their sets and what they were getting into. He had that familiarity with the team and obviously that was helpful, but it was great to see him come through down the stretch, finish the game and make some big shots. I’m happy for him.

”Denver entered the fourth quarter with a 76-74 lead thanks to a 20-foot jumper from Collin Gillespie with 2 seconds left in the third.

Sengun added eight rebounds and five assists, while shooting 9 of 18 from the field.

“I think it’s a good thing that they’re playing more through him,” Jokic said of Sengun. “I think it’s going to benefit their whole organization. He’s a guy who is not selfish, he wants to play for the team, he wants to pass, and the whole team is going to move when the ball is in his hands. He played really good today.”

Behind Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. scored 25 points, Aaron Gordon had 16 and Reggie Jackson added 14.

“The greatest challenge that we have is we’re trying to compete for a championship but also develop four young players off the bench,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “That is insanely hard because young players are going to have nights like tonight, and you have to continue to support them and help them in any way that you can, and that’s what we’re going to do. We know these guys are capable.”

Houston has won two in a row against Denver following a 10-game losing streak.

“It gives us another feather in our cap,” Udoka said. “It gives us experience with late-game execution and getting the shots we want and defending. I’m happy with how we finished. They did hit some tough shots, but that’s expected from a championship-caliber team.”


Nuggets: Host the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the NBA In-Season Tournament play on Tuesday night.

Rockets: Open up a three-game California road trip with the Clippers on Friday night.

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The Texans will have to shuffle the o-line once again. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

“Another one!”- DJ Khaled

That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.

The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.

Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!

One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.

As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.

To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.

I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.

The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.

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