Rockets 109, Nuggets 99
Rockets keep rolling and defeat Nuggets
Two days removed from a convincing win at home against the Pacers--and zero days removed from the Carmelo Anthony-induced national media spotlight--the Houston Rockets squared off against the reeling but formidable Denver Nuggets. With the Warriors looming later in the week, the 5-7 Rockets were in no position to lose any ground in the standings. What resulted was a resounding 109-99 victory that featured a Rockets team that, for the second game in a row, looked just as lethal as they were last season.
In a matchup that showcased fairly converse team compositions, the Nuggets and Rockets each played to their strengths throughout. Houston operated from the arc using kick outs and lob passes from pick and roll drives, while Denver attacked the paint with their star center Nikola Jokic. The product was one of the most exciting games this season, featuring 18 lead changes, 9 ties, and--most importantly--a Rockets victory.
James Harden continued to do James Harden things, and while he struggled from the arc Tuesday night (2-10), he was virtually unstoppable driving inside (5-6). He finished the night with 22 points, but his greatest impact was felt as an 11-assist distributor.
Chris Paul was easily the game's biggest difference maker. Paul has struggled to find his shot early this season, which in turn had deprived the Rockets of half of the two headed monster that made them so unstoppable last season. Tuesday night marked the second vintage CP3 scoring game in a row however, as Paul dictated the offense and poured in 21 points on 7-12 shooting. When Paul and Harden are rolling, the Rockets are tough to beat.
In spite of both of the electric performances, it was Clint Capela who in fact led the team with 24 points. Capela continued to display his ability to slip behind defenses forced to crash down on Paul and Harden, while his underrated hands vacuumed up lobs to thunder through the net.
The win came in spite of yet another dismal shooting performance from Eric Gordon, mustering only 11 points in 33 minutes. His cold streak continued behind the line, connecting on just 2-7. Gordon is shooting just 23.7 percent from three this season, a far cry from his career average of 37.3%. The Rockets will have to hope that their sixth man can break out of this slump soon, otherwise it will become harder and harder to justify such a large share of minutes.
The win further proved the expendability of Carmelo Anthony, as his minutes we're distributed to more defensive-minded role players like James Ennis and Gary Clark. The result has turned Houston into a top 5 defense over the past six games. Anthony is no longer expected to rejoin the team as he remains absent from the team with what the Rockets are simply categorizing as an illness. It is believed that Anthony's camp is currently searching for a team that would be interested in his services in preparation for a mutual parting of ways between the two.
Regardless of how the Carmelo sideshow plays out, Houston still has a game to play Thursday against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Rockets will need to mirror the effort and style they've played with in the past two contests to have a shot, but with their rotation finally set and momentum building, Houston's chance have at least gone from laughable to possible.