Rockets keep streak going out of the break, but tougher tasks loom ahead
James Harden was the only Rocket to play three games last week, one of which with Team Stephen at the NBA All-Star Game. Harden casually flirted with a triple-double out in L.A., finishing with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists in a three-point defeat that means absolutely nothing.
Later in the Week, the Rockets got back to business.
Picking right where they left off with their 10-game win streak, Houston added two more wins on Friday and Sunday against the Timberwolves and Nuggets, respectively. The Rockets maintain the best record in the league, with a half game lead on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. Sporting an 11-game lead, the Southwest Division is all but locked up at this point.
Game 58: Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (W, 120-102)
Every time I see the Timberwolves matchup, I assume that it’s going to be a great game because they are the fourth seed in the Western Conference, they sport the seventh best record in the league and I personally enjoy watching Karl Anthony-Towns do Karl Anthony-Towns things.
Every time, however, I have been wrong. It just goes to prove how much of a drop off in talent there is between Houston, Golden State, and everyone else in the Western Conference.
Each of the three meetings against the Timberwolves have resulted in three 18-point victories. This one provided at least a little first-half intrigue, but as most matchups with Houston go, the second half was a blowout. Harden was his usual self, adding a pedestrian 31 points and 9 assists, while Clint Capela showed flashes of his burgeoning offensive ability to the tune of 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Game 59: Rockets at Denver Nuggets (W, 119-114)
This week was sort of a mix up for me. I assumed Minnesota would be the must-watch game, while the Denver matchup would be a snoozer.
Denver overcame an 18-point deficit, and a furious fourth quarter rally cut the Rockets lead to as little as 4. That’s when--once again--the ball was placed in the hands of Chris Paul and Harden, who tag-teamed the door slamming on the Nuggets' hopes of victory. Paul nailed a clutch fade away mid range shot, followed on the next Houston possession by some Harden cooking and his patented step back jumper to essentially seal it with 46 seconds left.
A five point victory has been quite counter to the norm throughout this current winning streak, as the Rockets have defeated those teams by and average of 12.5 points. A tough game seemed almost necessary.
Don’t expect this streak to get too crazy, because the back end of the Rockets’ schedule gets a little hairy starting this week. Tonight the Rockets play a hungry Jazz team during the second half of an away back-to-back. Utah has won 12 of its past 13 games. Following that, Houston heads out to L.A. to try and claim some revenge (preferably on-court this time) against a new-look Clippers team, and Saturday they finish the week at home looking to even the season series against Boston.
Utah looks like a possible trap game, so don’t sleep on them tonight. The Clippers aren't exactly at full strength, and I expect the Rockets to take out a lot of frustration on them Wednesday. Saturday’s game against the Celtics is practically must-watch, which is why it’s being aired nationally. Consider it a potential dark-horse Finals matchup, and I think the Rockets even things up with Boston before heading into next week.