The Rockets Report
Rockets win streak reaches nine with tougher tests coming this week
The Rockets capitalized on the extra rest they were afforded during their two-game work schedule this past week, stretching their winning streak to nine games after beating the Utah Jazz last Thursday and winning an absolute battle with the Portland Trail Blazers this past Saturday. With two more wins, the Rockets have taken over as the best team in the league.
Game 23: Rockets at Utah Jazz (W, 112-101)
It seems as though in almost every game the Rockets play in, they have an offensive explosion that opposing teams simply cannot recover from. In this case, that explosion came in the form of a 37-point third quarter. James Harden led the game with 29 points, followed by Ryan Anderson with 23. Chris Paul continued to play his role as the glue guy, adding 18 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Game 24: Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (W, 124-117)
The Rockets have been beating teams so handily this season that the only narrative angle anyone has been able to come up with as far as a potential weakness would be Harden and Paul’s inexperience sharing the court in close games. The point was proved moot at least for a moment on Saturday night, as Houston completed a come-from-behind victory after withstanding a 35-point offensive onslaught from Damian Lillard. Harden scored 15 of the Rockets’ 40 points in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback. He would finish with 48. Nearly lost in the shadow of Harden’s brilliant performance was Paul’s 26 point outing.
Open looks: One of the biggest positives to Paul’s return to the lineup has been his effect on Anderson’s shooting percentage. In 16 games played without Paul, Anderson shot .376 from the field. In the 9 games they’ve shared the court, Anderson’s percentage is almost 50% (.498).
Working on both sides: To no one’s surprise, the Rockets are currently ranked second in the league in points per game. It was stated early in the season, however, that improving on defense was a priority if they were to make a deeper run in the playoffs. To say they’ve improved is an understatement. Having ended last season as the 18th ranked team defensively, the Rockets head into the 2nd third of the season currently ranked 8th in points allowed.
With Paul settling into his typical elite distributor role, Harden was overtaken by Russell Westbrook as the league’s assist leader this week. If it’s any consolation, Harden still league in points, averaging 32.3 per game at an unreal 46% shooting percentage.
The Rockets have a full plate of home cooking this week as they host the Pelicans on Monday, the Hornets on Wednesday, the Spurs on Friday, and the Bucks on Saturday. The Pelicans sport one of the nastiest frontcourts in the NBA with superstars Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, but they’ve been unable to maintain any consistency. The Hornets will have a chance to avenge the 109-93 blowout suffered earlier in the season, but at 9-16 on the season, I don’t envision them capitalizing on the opportunity. Friday the Rockets will get their first look at the Spurs this season, as they welcome back Kawhi Leonard from injury. At 19-8, the Spurs represent the biggest test for the Rockets since Nov. 9 versus the Cavs. Finally, the Rockets host the Bucks and one of my favorite players in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are 15-10, but they could prove to be a sneaky difficult contest now that they’re finally healthy. From the looks of it, I would assume that the Rockets win streak ends sometime toward the end of next week, adding at least two more wins in the interim.