THE ROCKETS REPORT
Rockets bounce back with 3-0 week; tougher tests ahead
Last week the Rockets made progress toward shaking off the biggest slump of the season by sweeping all three opponents by double-digit margins. The team did so without James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute once again, both of whom are on track to return to the lineup at some point this week.
The Rockets record now stands at 30-11 which, as Charlie Palillo mentioned, is a historic pace. No team in franchise history has eclipsed the 60-win mark, including the two championship seasons. Despite this, Houston remains three and a half games back from the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings.
Game 39: Rockets at Chicago Bulls (W, 116-107)
Monday’s game against Chicago proved once again that when the Rockets’ three-point shot is on, they’re an incredibly difficult team to beat. Trevor Ariza buried 6 threes and Eric Gordon and Gerald Green each hit four to help the Houston pull out of a two-game losing streak. Gordon and Chris Paul led the team with 24 points each, and Green added 22 off the bench. Clint Capela added 16 rebounds
Game 40: Rockets 121, Portland Trail Blazers 112
The Rockets returned home on Wednesday for a tough test against a perennially pesky Trail Blazers team led by point guard Damian Lillard. Houston knew it would need to lean on their stars to negotiate a victory, and it was Paul and Gordon who answered the call. A back-and-forth first quarter gave way to a less than comfortable lead that the Rockets would fail to surrender for the rest of the game. Paul would finish with a season-high 37 points and 11 assists. Gordon added 5 three pointers on the way to a 30 point outing, his third 30-plus point performance of the season.
Game 41: Rockets at Phoenix Suns (W, 112-95)
There was little doubt that the Rockets would struggle in the desert, and proof can be seen when Ryan Anderson dunks on you. After a sluggish first quarter, Houston’s motor turned on and the Suns were left in the dust as the Rockets cruised to their third straight victory. Paul led the steamrolling with 25 points, and Anderson and Ariza added 18 each. Clint Capela added 17 points and 16 rebounds, marking the eighth game this season with 15 or more rebounds.
Picking up the slack: With Harden falling to injury at the end of December, it was apparent that someone would need to shoulder the load, and most assumed it would be Chris Paul to do so. Paul has responded, and in the six games played without Harden his stats can prove it:
Paul in December: 21 ppg, 8 apg, 5.6 rpg
Paul since Harden injury: 23 ppg, 10.2 apg, 7.3 rpg
Thin up front: Backup center Nene current injury and Capela’s recent one have highlighted quite possibly the achilles heel of the Rockets: They are painfully thin in the front court. Nene and Capela are essentially the only two real rim protectors Houston has, and when one of them goes down, that leaves a hole in the rotation for teams to attack the paint much more effectively. While the Rockets are still a very tough team, It may be worth keeping an eye on whether a move is made to bring in a bargain-value big man as the trade deadline approaches.
This week looks to be one of the more difficult weeks Houston has had this season, which is why they will be thrilled at the very timely scheduled returns of both Mbah a Moute and Harden. The Rockets will play one more game out west against the Clippers tonight before they return home for a Thursday matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a Saturday rubber match against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers upset the Rockets in their last meeting, but I don’t see Chris Paul allowing his old team to steal another. Thursday will be a tough test as Houston will get its first shot at a quietly formidable Timberwolves team that’s currently ranked 4th in the conference. Saturday will be the third matchup between Houston and Golden State, a matchup that looks to pit both teams together with fully healed rosters. It will take another near-perfect performance to take down the champs and a win would be a huge momentum swing. By next Sunday I expect the Rockets to go 2-1 at best, with a loss against Minnesota, Golden State, or both.