Rockets capture first season win over Pelicans

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets capture first win of the season over Pelicans 126-123

In a game thought to be uneventful, as shown by the Vegas spread (Houston -12.0), the Rockets hung on to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans in a close one, 126-123. Despite missing Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday and coming off a back-to-back, the Pelicans pushed Houston to the brink and came very close to coming out on top. For the Rockets, it's become increasingly clear that their defense is a point of concern that needs to be corrected as quickly as possible. Even head coach Mike D'Antoni, who said Thursday that he felt good about where Houston was defensively, changed his tune Saturday night.

"Things have changed," said D'Antoni, chuckling. "We just weren't into them again. I mean we have that tendency, but they were superfast, they kept coming at us. We would go up 10, and then we would relax, but you can't do that. You know, we're not real sharp right now and you have to gut these things out."

The Rockets allowed Brandon Ingram to log one of his best games of his career, chipping in 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists for the Pelicans on a ridiculous 72.3% true shooting. Houston just didn't have an answer for the 22 year old, nor did they have one for Josh Hart, who scored 23 points of his own on 64.3% true shooting (5 of 12 from three-point range).

What turned it around for the Rockets is the same man who nearly stole them their first win on Thursday, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook's fingerprints were all over Houston's second half turnaround as he pulled in 18 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds all in the second half alone.

"It's something I think my team needed from me at the time," Westbrook said after the game. "I was there to be aggressive and find ways to better make an impact on the game."

A storyline that continued on from Thursday's loss is James Harden's poor shooting. Although he scored 28 points, Harden shot 8 for 29 from the field and 2 for 18 from three-point range. Harden is now 3 for 27 for the season from behind the arc.

"He's lost his rhythm a little bit," said D'Antoni. "Nothing to worry about. There's no way it's going to last this way."

Harden expressed a similar lack of concern.

"I'm going to take as many shots as they give me," said Harden. "I was in [the gym] yesterday working on that same shot and this morning on that same shot. Tonight, it just didn't fall."

Star of the game: For the second straight game, Russell Westbrook will take home these honors. Tonight, Westbrook pulled in 28 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, and 1 steal on great efficiency (65.4% true shooting). His timing is now there with all of his teammates, including Clint Capela, his pace has dictated what the Rockets are doing offensively, and he has willed Houston through all of their dull moments so far this (short) season.

Honorable mention: Danuel House's development is one of the more under the radar storylines of Houston's season. Not only is he hitting his three-pointers at over a 40% clip - something he carried over from last season - his ball-handling and decision making is really starting to come together. House scored 15 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and was 4 of 5 from three-point range.

Key moment: Westbrook's dunk in transition capped off what was one hellacious stretch for the 30-year-old point guard.

Up next: Chris Paul returns to the Toyota Center to face his former team on Monday, 7:00 p.m.

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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