The Rockets Report

Rough week for Rockets as injuries contribute to three-game losing streak

Chris Paul was injured against the Lakers. Houston Rockets/Facebook

After going undefeated since a week before Thanksgiving, The Rockets white hot run finally came to an end last week. After a fourth quarter outburst secured the victory against Utah, the Rockets have since dropped three in a row - their longest losing streak of the season.

The Rockets are now second in both the conference and the league, with Golden State holding a one game lead.

Game 29: Rockets vs Utah Jazz (W, 120-99)

The final score is about as misleading as it gets. James Harden and company were in a dogfight from tip off until 8 minutes remained in the fourth. That’s when the Rockets--fueled mainly behind the shooting of Eric Gordon--ignited and scorched the Jazz for a 41-15 fourth quarter to seal the victory. Gordon led the team with 33 points, 17 of which were scored in the fourth quarter alone. Clint Capela ended the game with 24 points and 20 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 18 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. A stat correction the following day would end up removing a rebound from Capela and awarding it to Paul, which would register as his first triple-double of the season. Harden would finish with 26 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds.

Game 30: Rockets vs LA Lakers (L, 122-116)

The LA Lakers in Houston arrived as severe underdogs after almost stealing a game from Golden State the night before. The heartbreaking loss must have emboldened them, as they erupted out of the gate. The Lakers controlled the game for the entire first half, leading by as much as 22 at one point. The Rockets would chip away, though turning the entire third quarter into a slug fest. Sloppy defense and a career night from Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma would prove too much to overcome for Houston, despite a 51 point, 9 assist performance from Harden. Gordon would provide the only other 20-plus point performance for the Rockets, adding 21 of his own. Paul had 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists before leaving late in the fourth with what would eventually be diagnosed as a left abductor strain.

Game 31: Rockets vs LA Clippers (L, 128-118)

Looking to rebound from their first loss in December, the Rockets jumped out ahead of the Clippers early. Houston would hold on to a steady lead until midway through the third when Austin Rivers tied the game after a 12-point outburst. The Clippers would take the lead and hold on for the win despite a late fourth quarter surge from Houston. Rivers would finish with a career-high 36 points for the Clippers, while Harden recorded his second straight 51-point game. Gordon added 28 points as well.

Game 32: Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 112-107)

With 14 lead changes and neither lead climbing higher than 8 points, this primetime Christmas Day matchup certainly did not disappoint. After a close game throughout, both teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 88. It was OKC’s third ranked defense that would prove to be the deciding factor in the end, as a string of well timed steals and blocks in the final two minutes would seal the Rockets fate. Russell Westbrook finished with 31 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony would follow with 24 and 20 points respectively. Harden finished with 29 points 14 assists and 8 rebounds, and Trevor Ariza and Gordon each chipped in 20 as well.

Takeaways

The back to back 50 point games were historic. The last player to record back to back 50 point games was Kobe Bryant in 2007. The last time a player scored 51 points to go with 8 or more assists? According to basketball-reference.com, James Harden is the only person to do it since 1983-1984.

At 32 straight games with 20 or more points (and counting), Harden is ranks among the greats. The only other players that have stretched out a start like this are Wilt Chamberlain, Lebron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Two of the losses this week came with Capela on the bench, thus proving just how valuable he’s proven to be to the Rockets this season. His rebounding was expected, but this season his defensive improvement and ability to find soft spots in the defense while teams trap perimeter scorers has been key to the Rockets meteoric start.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets road doesn’t get much easier for the remainder of the week, with back to back away games against the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, followed by a home game Sunday against the Lakers. Both the Celtics and Wizards are playoff bound teams with dynamic, difficult backcourt assignments. The Lakers are still a sub .500 team despite their win last Wednesday. Chris Paul should return to the lineup Thursday in Boston, and they’ll need all hands on deck. I expect the Rockets to shake off the current losing streak, taking two out of three heading into the new year.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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