Baby steps

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets build upon Memphis win, defeating Warriors 129-112

The Houston Rockets took a small step towards getting back to contending form Wednesday night with their blowout win over the depleted Golden State Warriors. After getting a decent win over the young, rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, the Rockets had absolutely no excuse to come return home and lose to an already shaky Warriors team missing All-Stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Houston did exactly what was expected of them for the second game in a row which is a nice change of pace to their up-and-down season.

Mike D'Antoni harped on the Rockets' conditioning being the reason for Houston's struggles to start the season.

"We're just not in great shape right now," said D'Antoni after the game. "We'll get there."

Multiple Rockets players agreed with D'Antoni's assessment, including notably, Clint Capela who'd struggled mightily up until tonight (19 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 2 assists).

"I feel like everybody's not there yet, but it's getting there," said Capela. "It was a short preseason, we went to Japan, we came back, we're a vet team. We're like the 2nd oldest team in the NBA. For some of the guys, it took a little bit more than young teams to get where they want to be."

Star of the game: James Harden finished the game with 36 points, 13 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Harden shot 10 for 23 from the field, 6 for 16 from three-point range, and 10 for 13 from the free throw line.

Honorable mention: P.J. Tucker had his best game of the season, logging 22 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. Tucker shot 9 of 14 from the field, 4 of 8 from three-point range, and finished the game a +32.

Key moment: James Harden had an 18-point stretch to close the 2nd quarter after Eric Pascall turned to the Warriors bench and called him "food". Harden had been struggling with his three-point shot all season (25.3% before this game) and was due for a big game like this.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Chicago on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.

Few things are darker in sports than a 21-point fourth quarter collapse after losing three straight prior to the game. Every game from this point forward becomes progressively more 'win-now'.

Chris Paul absolutely demolished the Rockets in the first half, scoring 27 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 shooting from three-point range. Houston couldn't manage to slow him down until they started trapping Paul more and more in the second half and forcing other Thunder players to beat them. What the Rockets weren't counting on was for it to actually happen. Danilo Gallinari absolutely torched the Rockets in the fourth quarter (12 points on 3 of 4 shooting from three-point range and 3 of 3 shooting from the free throw line).

The Rockets were rolling in this game when they went small with P.J. Tucker at center (41 minutes played). Clint Capela was also in foul trouble all night so it was the more convenient strategy. The problem was their defense absolutely cratered without Clint Capela in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter due to lack of rim protection. At that point, Oklahoma City took the lead and never looked back. It also didn't help that James Harden was off as he was tonight (1 of 17 from three-point range) and Houston missed a lot of quality looks from beyond the arc as a unit (9 of 45 from three-point range).

Russell Westbrook was fantastic, but the Rockets are at their best when James Harden is humming and tonight marked the continuation of the struggles he's had for six games now. Harden is shooting 34.8% from the field and 23.9% from three-point range in this span. It's also not a coincidence that the Rockets are 1-5 in these games.

Star of the game: As with a lot of Houston's losses these past two weeks, Russell Westbrook was clearly the best player on the player on the floor tonight and it wasn't particularly close. Westbrook logged 32 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and 2 steals on 16 of 24 shooting from the field. Although they lost, when things started to get rocky for the Rockets in the fourth quarter, Westbrook was the steady hand for this team. It'll be interesting to see how long his streak of efficient scoring keeps up, but the Rockets would be getting blown out of the building if not for Westbrook.

Honorable mention: James Harden wasn't nearly efficient enough (9 of 29 from the field) or careful enough with the basketball (5 turnovers) to earn second place honors tonight. Danuel House, however, was excellent (on the whole) after struggling to find a rhythm these past couple weeks. House logged 13 points on 5 of 11 shooting from the field and 3 of 7 shooting from three-point range. He was really rough in the fourth quarter (-25), but on the whole, this is an encouraging sign for House.

Key moment: The Rockets went into the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead and lost the game by 5 - that tells you all you need to know about this game. Houston played three really good quarters of basketball and lost focus in the fourth. James Harden missed step-back three after step-back three (0 for 3 from three-point range) and Houston couldn't buy a stop if it was given to them for free (41 points allowed).

Up next: The Rockets play the Denver Nuggets at 7:00 p.m. in Houston on Wednesday.

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