WIZARDS 135, Rockets 131

James Harden puts up 54, but Rockets fall to Wizards

James Harden is winless with the headband. Rockets.com

Game 19 found the Houston Rockets staring at a .500 record with the intent of gaining ground in a tight Western Conference. At the end of a three-game road trip, the Rockets faced off against an internally conflicted Washington Wizards team that started the season off poorly much like Houston, but - like Houston - had recently began to recompose themselves.

Houston exploded out of the gate behind an early Eric Gordon 3-point barrage. A headbanded James Harden would back Gordon up with 13 of his own as the rockets exploded out to an early 17 point lead. Sloppy basketball would leave Clint Capela and Marquese Chriss in foul trouble, allowing the Wizards to crawl back. The Rockets would go 1-10 from three in the second and the Wizards would seize the lead late in the half behind a series of John Wall layup drives.

While the score remained close, the Wizards would maintain their lead throughout the third quarter. Harden and Gordon would continue their unconscious assault on the Wizards and as the third quarter drew to a close, the Rockets would seize a 4-point lead. Harden and Gordon poured in 44 points and 27 points respectively.

The fourth quarter would erupt into an all out dog fight with six ties over the final six minutes. Clint Capela would throw down and Harden alley-oop to tie the game at 125 before a PJ Tucker strip on the subsequent possession would give the Rockets the final opportunity to win in regulation. Gordon’s last chance shot would be blocked, however, and for the second time on their three game road trip, the Rockets would head to overtime.

Houston’s thin bench would finally prove to be the difference in the contest, and as fatigue set in, the Wizards slowly pulled away to a four-point victory behind John Wall’s 36 points and Bradley Beal’s 32. Harden would finish with 54 points and 13 assists, while Gordon followed with a season-high 36 points.

Game Notes

The Rockets played without Chris Paul for the second straight night, as he was kept out with what was described as a sore left leg. Gerald Green sat as well with a sore right ankle.

James Harden was the second player this season to score 50-plus points in a loss. Including tonight, Harden accounts for three of the four most recent 50-point losing performances, both of which came last season. Harden is the 6th player this season with a 50-point game.

Eric Gordon’s 36 points are tied for his second highest in his career. Gordon scored 36 points once before in 2010 in a win against the Timberwolves. Gordon also finished with a career high tying 8 three-pointers. Gordon knocked down five 3-pointers in Saturday’s matchup, but prior to that he had gone 15-60 in his previous 7 starts.

Shooting guard Danuel House was called up from the G-League to fill in with Paul and Green both out, and was fed 28 minutes in his first game with the Rockets. The newcomer finished with four points, three rebounds, and one assist.

Clint Capela added his 8th double-double of the season with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks.

Harden currently holds a lifetime winless streak when sporting a headband. He does average 54 points, 13 assists, and 3 steals, though.

Next Up:

Rockets at home versus the Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday at 7 p.m.

 

Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans Saturday play a lousy 4-9 Jets team Saturday now without its leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and leading pass catcher (Quincy Enunwa). Then they face a probably Carson Wentz-less Eagles team seeing its Super Bowl championship defense die away. Then the awful Jaguars come to Houston. 12-4 is right there for the Texans, but that will only be enough for the number three seed in the AFC and a Wild Card weekend home game unless the fading Steelers rise up Sunday to knock off the Patriots. That game is in Pittsburgh. The Patriots' final two games are both at home against the Bills and Jets.

With the Patriots losing their game to the Miami Miracle, on one hand you can say the Texans blew a massive opportunity in losing at home to the Colts. On the other hand the Colts were clearly the better team in ending the Texans' nine game winning streak.

The loss to Indy was a reality check. The Texans are a pretty good team, but glaring areas of weakness keep it from being a reeeeally good team. The offensive line is flat lousy in pass protection, though sometimes Deshaun Watson makes it look even worse by holding on to the ball too long. Pending free agent moves in the offseason, one of the Texans' top two draft picks next spring MUST be spent on an offensive lineman, the other on a cornerback (if not on another o-lineman). Even in their zone-heavy scheme, the Texans lack corners who run well enough. If the pass rush isn't raising hell, the secondary is Swiss cheesy. Remember, the Texans have an extra second pick this spring, acquired from Seattle in last year's Duane Brown trade.

If somehow the Texans chump up two of their remaining three games, as long as one of the losses isn't to the Jaguars they still win the AFC South even if the Titans or Colts win out.

Coogs' house

None of the Phi Slama Jama era Houston Cougar basketball teams started a season better than 5-0. Sunday Kelvin Sampson's Coogs go for a Bo Derek (perfect 10, anybody remember Bo?) start. Only UH team ever to open 10-0: the Elvin Hayes-led '67-'68 squad that went 31-0 and along the way beat UCLA in the Game of the Century before the Bruins obliterated the Cougars at the Final Four.

The new Fertitta Center is a modest-sized gem, and currently offers the hands down best sports environment in town. Non-Cougars are never going to embrace UH in big numbers especially not in a major league sports town, so UH's "For the City" slogan doesn't hit the mark. But so what? Drawing more of the Cougar base, plus any outside of it who might have some interest piqued by intensely played quality college basketball is good enough.

Rockets rumors

The Rockets have been vastly less excitement-inducing this season, though James Harden's closing brilliance in a 50 point explosion Thursday night to put away the Lakers was a doozy. Getting back to and then over ,500 is the Rockets' near term goal. A good month of sustained quality play is needed to restore credibility. Chris Paul's overall level of play remains a serious concern. The rumor this week of their interest in Cleveland malcontent J.R. Smith, egads! That would render Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey Desperate Daryl. Morey is trying to recover from his awful offseason, but I can't believe he sees J.R. Smith as worthwhile.

Speaking of Morey's offseason work, the Rockets Saturday gain the right to trade Carmelo Anthony. What a bonanza must await in return!

Astros still armed

Not a great look for the Astros that they tugged on their purse strings while the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams guaranteed Charlie Morton $30 million dollars over the next two years. The Astros did not err. Morton was on balance outstanding in his two Astro seasons but he wore down badly this year, and at 35 years old his arm is a ticking bomb. The Astros should add an established starting pitcher, but even if Jeff Luhnow doesn't, the Collin McHugh/Brad Peacock/Josh James/Framber Valdez quartet isn't an indefensible plan to cover three rotation spots while waiting on elite prospect Forrest Whitley's arrival during the 2019 season. If poor performance/injuries are issues, nothing precludes a notable in-season trade. That Verlander fellow worked out okay a couple of seasons ago. A left handed hitter is the obvious other logical Astros' target.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Pipe down Tony La Russa. Harold Baines making the Baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous. 2. La Russa also used to lambaste those who dared to believe that Mark McGwire might have been a steroid guy. 3. Best teams in the AFC: Bronze-Patriots Silver-Chargers Gold-Chiefs (but barely post-loser Kareem Hunt).

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