Rockets Report

Rockets shrug off setbacks behind Harden's continued dominance

Kevin C. Cox

If the Rockets' finger wasn't making contact the panic button last week, it was at the very least hovering just above. After losing star center Clint Capela Sunday night to a thumb injury that looks to keep the pick-and-roll maestro out for at least a month, Houston was tasked with filling an almost unfillable hole on both ends of the court. Luck continued to eschew the Rockets later in the week, as contract negotiations with G-League gem Danuel House failed to reach a resolution in time. House returned to the G-league as a result, only playing in one game this past week. At this point most teams missing their starting point guard, starting center, and spark plug sixth man would likely be headed for trouble.

Most teams don't have a James Harden.

The Beard continued adding brushstrokes to what is becoming a generationally unique masterpiece of a season, as he posted 57, 58, and 48-point games consecutively, en route to a 2-1 record for the week. The Rockets are now 26-19, first in the Southwest Division, and fifth in the Western Conference

Two wins, one loss

Houston had very little turnaround time to formulate a new offensive game plan before taking on the Memphis Grizzlies hours after learning that Capela would not be available for the next 4-6 weeks. Harden did everything he could to give Coach Mike D'Antoni time to think, as he exploded for a franchise record 36 points in the first half. Houston would once again ride a brilliant Harden performance to an easy victory.

Wednesday the Rockets took on the Brooklyn Nets for the second time this season. Houston fell to the Nets in their previous meeting, and their win prospects were only further dimmed after learning that House would not be suiting up that evening. Harden was once again carrying the team to what looked to be a victory when Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie exploded for 25 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Despite a season high 58 points from Harden, Houston was unable to curtail Brooklyn's momentum and the Rockets fell 145-142.

After an extended rest, Houston was back at it Saturday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. The matchup lived up to its nationally televised billing despite both teams missing key players. The LeBron-less Lakers fired out of the gate behind forward Kyle Kuzma's 20-point first quarter and seemed to put the game out of reach early. Trailing by as much as 21 points, Harden and guard Eric Gordon went to work chipping away at the lead. In a last second desperation attempt, Gordon caught the final in bounds pass of regulation and sent an improbable, off balanced, 3-pointer through the net to force overtime. This time it would be the Rockets that succeeded in extra time as a clutch offensive rebound from Harden would seal the win. Harden extended his streak of 30+ point games to 19.

Reinforcements Incoming

The Rockets are expected to sign center Kenneth Faried after he clears waivers Monday afternoon. Faried began the season with the Brooklyn Nets, but failed to find a productive role in their scheme. If you're looking for a hustle guy, look no further than the guy nicknamed "Manimal." Despite being undersized, Faried excels in rebounding, defense, and pick and roll offense. That description sounds oddly familiar to a certain injured center already on the roster. Faried should provide an instant upgrade to a practically unstaffed position for the Rockets.

Looking ahead

The Rockets will start a four game week Monday night at Philadelphia, followed by a Wednesday match up against the New York Knicks. The Rockets will return to Houston to host the Toronto Raptors Friday night before finishing the week with a Sunday home game against the Orlando Magic.

Chris Paul has shown progress but still looks to be about a week out from a return. Clint Capela remains 4-6 weeks out.

Harden has shown zero signs of slowing down, and Faried should slow down the amount of easy buckets around the rim once he suits up. If the Rockets can reliably count on repeat performances from Eric Gordon like the version we saw Saturday night and Faried performs as predicted, Houston should continue to remain a playoff contender.

I see the Rockets splitting the week, with wins against New York and Orlando and losses against Philadelphia and Toronto.

Rockets tweet(s) of the week:

It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't ugly either. That just seems par for the course whenever the Rockets play the Pelicans. Regardless of injuries on either side, these two teams just always manage to play each other competitively, whistle to whistle. Houston pulled out ahead tonight, but it wasn't without a fight.

Jrue Holiday and Josh Hart in particular, did an excellent job defending James Harden tonight, forcing him to shoot 3 for 11 from deep. The Pelicans often swarmed Harden and forced him to give up the basketball. It helps the Eric Gordon is starting to find a rhythm from three-point range (4 of 7 tonight and 3 of 7 Saturday against Chicago). Westbrook was also forceful offensively to help pick up for Harden's early struggles.

Clint Capela has really stepped it up for Houston these past four games (11 points, 20 rebounds, and 2 blocks tonight on 5 of 6 shooting). Capela has managed to grab 13 or more rebounds in Houston's last four outings. Capela had struggled greatly to start the season, forcing head coach Mike D'Antoni to rely on smaller units with P.J. Tucker at center. However, the Rockets aren't going to go as far as they want in the postseason if they aren't getting a strong 30 minutes a game from Clint Capela, so it's encouraging that he's starting to play well.

The Rockets took a 7-point lead after a surge from Westbrook to end the first quarter and for the most part, held that lead for the duration of the game. New Orleans made a strong push in the fourth quarter the battle back, but at that point it was too little too late.

Star of the game: James Harden didn't have a the best three-point shooting game, but still managed to log 39 point, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in the process on 62.6% true shooting. He was effect at driving to the rim, drawing fouls, getting floaters, and finding shooters. Harden scored 19 of his points in the 4th quarter, effectively dragging Houston to victory despite a strong late push by New Orleans that cut the lead from 17 at one point down to as low as 6.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook was dialed in from the first quarter, particularly from mid-range where he scored 12 of his points on 6 of 8 shooting. In a night where Harden was really struggling to gain a rhythm, Westbrook really helped pick up the slack for Houston especially in the units without Harden. Westbrook finished the game with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals on an efficient 57.1% true shooting. It's unlikely Westbrook will shoot that well from mid-range this season, but on nights where he's on like this, the Rockets will gladly take it.

Key moment: Russell Westbrook's stretch to end the first quarter gave the Rockets a 7-point lead and the Pelicans were never able to capture the lead from that point forward. Westbrook scored or assisted on the final 6 points of the quarter (within 56.8 seconds) and was forceful defensively.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Los Angeles Clippers at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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