GAME 6 PREVIEW

Keep doubting these Rockets; it has worked well so far

James Harden's bad shooting streak will come to an end at some point. Kevin C. Cox

Keep doubting, go ahead.

Keep soaking up the narrative that the national media has been spoon feeding everyone since even before Game 1's tip off.

“The Rockets have no chance.”

“The Rockets are going to get swept.”

“They just don't match up well.”

I bet you took that and ran with it. Plenty of people did. I bet you pointed at the TV screen as the Rockets fell in Game 1 and validated your skepticism to your buddies.

Then Game 2 happened, and Houston beat the brakes off of the untouchable Golden State super team. Houston had drawn blood against Xerxes, proving that they were in fact mortal. Houston fans were offered a faint glimmer of hope.

The next four days gave way to hot takes from the talking head prognosticators who began spreading whispers of heresy regarding the vulnerability of the NBA’s god-king.

Could they fall?

Is this the end of their reign?

The Warriors utilized Game 3 to crush the uprising with gratuitous show of force against the insubordinate upstart Rockets. Order must be restored, and a 41-point victory did just that.

With the status quo returned, Houston was once again given the “dead man walking" treatment. 

“They're just too much for Houston.”

“Who will the Warriors play in the finals?”

Unphased by their defeat, the Rockets took to the court and insolently battled back from multiple double-digit deficits to steal a win at Golden State. They then returned home and gutted out a filthy victory to seize a 3-2 series lead in spite of a horrendous shooting performance from James Harden and the last minute loss of Chris Paul.

So here we are. The Rockets are up 3-2 against one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the history of basketball. Golden State is hurt. Houston is hurt. But that's what happens in a battle.

The loss of Chris Paul has seemingly negated the position the Rockets are in by most people following the series. In spite of a 3-2 lead and two convincing back to back victories, the grave has already been dug and the majority of those following this series are already lowering Houston's casket.

The majority of those following this series, however, haven't watched the Rockets all season.

They probably can't tell you that when Chris Paul was out in the beginning of the season, Eric Gordon slid into the starting rotation and the Rockets didn't miss a beat while he averaged 22 points a game. 

They probably didn't see Gordon take over and average the same numbers for 10 games straight during Harden's injury either. They simply saw Chris Paul go down and called it a wrap.

This isn't Game 7, and Harden will not stay this cold shooting from range. The Rockets will have to find a way to productively divide roughly 40 minutes of playing time, but the firepower is still there. The main difference is that Houston is far more capable of playing their same style in the midst of injuries than Golden State. The Warriors, in the other hand, have just looked confused with the loss of Andre Igoudala. They have two chances to win just one game, and those are some pretty great odds.

So keep writing them off. Keep coming up with reasons to undermine Houston's performance into mediocrity. It's worked pretty well so far.

 

 

 

There are nights in the NBA where you just get completely outplayed and for Houston, this was one of them. The Nuggets came into the game with a simple, but effective gameplan: double team James Harden and let his teammates beat you. On most nights, they will, but tonight, the Rockets shot a putrid 31.6% (12-38) from three-point range. Houston also turned the ball over 20 times - really poor for a team that was averaging just 15.2 turnovers per game (12th).

The Rockets had opportunities midway through and late in this game to capitalize on Denver mistakes, but they were flummoxed by the swarming defensive approach, missed shots, and turned the ball over. The Nuggets are one of the few teams that can run with Houston and they took advantage of that, scoring 20 fast break points.

The Rockets may have had a fighting chance in this one had Danuel House not gotten hurt on an unfortunate play in which Nikola Jokic got called for a moving screen foul. House had to leave the game with shoulder soreness and did not return for the rest of the night. Without House and Gordon, the Rockets were lacking their two best shooters and had poor spacing against a Nuggets team that was trapping James Harden all night.

This doesn't excuse how badly the Rockets played. If Houston had limited their turnovers, played better defense, and hit just a fraction of the shots they missed, they could have won this game. They didn't and that's why they took home just their second regular season loss in three years against a Denver Nuggets squad that looks ready to contend in the Western Conference.

Star of the game: It's hard to pick a star for Houston after a loss like this, but I suppose the guy who played the least bad would probably be Clint Capela. Capela had 12 points, 21 rebounds, and a steal on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. Capela had to defend a handful in Nikola Jokic (27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists), but managed to be a +0 in a game in which the Rockets lost by 10.

Honorable mention: The award for "second least bad" would have to go to James Harden who logged 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 63.1% true shooting. It's also worth noting that Harden wasn't particularly good defensively, turned the ball over 8 times, and was a -17. Harden did the best he could on Denver's impressive trapping, but his performance was nonetheless a mixed bag at best.

Key moment: Denver really pulled away from Houston in the third quarter, where they outscored the Rockets 28 to 22 and hit 41.7% (5 of 12) of their three-pointers while allowing the Rockets to shoot a measly 33.3% (3 of 9).

Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Friday to take on the newly healthy duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

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