NBA REWIND

Paul's return to lineup helps Rockets to solid week

James Harden (left) welcomed Chris Paul back to the lineup. Rockets.com

I was a patron of Toyota Center twice this past week. One of the trips was a relatively new experience, while the other is a frequent occurrence. One of the trips was awesome, while the other was awful. One of the trips was the Rockets game versus Toronto, and the other was WWE’s NXT: Takeover. I'll let you figure out which was which.

I'm going to be honest with you. If you haven't ever tied one on at what is basically a minor league wrestling event, you should fix that.

Saturday night my buddies and I were ringside for the mayhem, and I made it a point all night to be as loud as humanly possible. Amongst our group was a wrestling diehard. This was minor league wrestling and he knew everyone.

Since I neither knew any of these wrestlers nor expected to maintain a vested interested, I decided that before every match I would ask my buddy who he was rooting for, and then root for that wrestler’s opponent. I thought at the time that this made me clever. Luckily he got the joke.

Apparently Saturday evening's main event was a match referred to as “Wargames,” which inexplicably involved two rings, a steel cage, three smaller cages at the top of the entrance ramp, wooden tables, folding chairs, metal trash cans, and nine wrestlers forming three man teams. I barely understood what was happening, but it was amazing. Those guys beat the snot out of each other.

Speaking of beatdowns…

This past week the Rockets were the recipients of one, and the donors of two, as they finished the week with a 13-4 record overall. Houston is currently tied for first place in the Western Conference, and second in the league.

Game Fifteen: Rockets vs Toronto Raptors (L, 113-129)

Tuesday was, as they say, “one of those games.” The Raptors shot 52% as a team, and had essentially put the game away with a 45 point second quarter. Eric Gordon was virtually non-existent, going 3-12 from the field for 12 points in 33 minutes. James Harden produced an odd stat line, going 8-25 from the field, but 19-19 from the line. He finished with 38 points and 11 assists. Trevor Ariza chipped in his first 20 point game of the season.

Game Sixteen: Rockets at Phoenix Suns (W, 142-116)

Chris Paul returned to action Thursday versus the Suns and contributed a double-double (11 points, 10 assists in 21 minutes) in a blowout victory. The Rockets piled on 90 points by halftime, and seven players finished with double digits in the scoring column. Harden’s performance was brutally efficient, going 12-22 from the field, 18-18 from the line, and 6-11 from beyond the arc. Harden finished with 48 points and 7 assists. Ryan Anderson drained 6 three-pointers as well, finishing with 24 points.

Game Seventeen: Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies (W, 105-83)

In the fourth and final regular season matchup between the Rockets and Grizzlies, Houston proved superior and evened the series 2-2 with a convincing 22-point victory. Two days after scoring a season high in points, the Rockets flipped the script and held the Grizzlies to a season low 83 points. Chris Paul poured in 17 in his second game back and Clint Capela tallied his 11th double double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Harden continued his blistering 2017-2018 campaign with a 29 point, 7 assist, and 5 rebound performance. Harden currently leads the league in both points and assists.

Takeaways:

  • So much for Chris Paul coming back rusty. While he’s returned with a minutes restriction, he’s still managed to average 14 points and 8 assists on 9-18 from the field in two games.

  • Ryan Anderson is the fuse that ignites Rockets blowouts. In games where Anderson scores more than 20 points, the Rockets are 3-1, and the average margin of victory is a an absurd 21.3 points.

  • After shooting lights out for the past two weeks, Eric Gordon finally returned to Earth and did so with a thud. In the past three games, Gordon is 16.7% (4-24) from three-point range, including an 0-7 effort in Tuesday’s loss to the Raptors.

Rockets Player of the Week (not named James Harden):

Chris Paul, of course! It’s great just to see Paul back on the court, and the idea that he may be rusty is very promising considering how well the offense has operated since his return.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets play twice this upcoming week, with home contests versus the Nuggets and Knicks. The Nuggets operate with a strong frontcourt combination of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, something that seems to be the only semblance of a weakness for the Rockets at the moment. Jokic leads the Nuggets in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game. That’s certainly not a lot, but it’s enough when six other teammates average 12 or more points per game in addition. Saturday’s matchup will be the second meeting between the Rockets and the Knicks. The Knicks have scrapped together a surprisingly decent start to the season, largely behind the efforts of “The Unicorn,” Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is averaging 27.8 points per game and the haul of players New York received in the Carmelo Anthony trade have been solid contributors so far. The Rockets easily dispatched the Knicks in their first meeting, and I see no evidence to suggest that the Knicks will even the season series this weekend. Assuming the Rockets can successfully neutralize the Nugget’s front court, I expect an undefeated short week of basketball heading into Cyber Monday.

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