Back on track

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets cruise by Bulls 117-94

It seemed sacreligious to say just three games ago, but now may be a safe time to proclaim that Houston has figured things out enough to be back on track. After the shooting disparity stretch from hell to start the season, the Rockets have now shot better than their opponents from three-point range for three straight outings. Also, for the first six games of the season, it looked like the Rockets were just going to have to win games with a bottom three defense and a top five offense.

Outside of the hot shooting from beyond the arc (43% from three-point range), what really stood out for Houston is their continued improvement on the glass. The Rockets outrebounded the Bulls 55 to 46 and James Harden and Clint Capela had a lot to do with that (10 and 20 rebounds respectively).

Danuel House was also had active hands in the passing lanes (6 steals) which helped the Rockets score the 28 fast break points they eventually put up. House's consistent solid play has been long-praised in these recaps, but it's worth mentioning that he had 11 points and 5 rebounds on 3 of 5 shooting from distance.

It may take a while for Eric Gordon to regain his comfort handling and passing the basketball as he had some particularly rough moments tonight (4 turnovers in 26 minutes), but an encouraging sign for Houston is Gordon shot 3 of 7 from three-point range after returning from his hamstring soreness and making 3 threes in his last outing against the Grizzlies. Gordon's shooting struggles are still going to be a game-by-game thing to monitor moving forward until he gets back on track.

Star of the game: James Harden logged a crazy 42 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 1 steal tonight on 66.0% true shooting. It doesn't sound crazy, because these stat lines are almost becoming pedestrian for Harden, but it bears remembering - this is not normal. Harden was ridiculous 9 of 19 from three-point range and took joy in any Bulls defender that tried stopping him, including Zach LaVine. Harden may be the only player in the NBA with the kind of green light to attempt 19 three-pointers.

Honorable mention: Clint Capela had likely his second good game of the season, logging possibly the quietest 16 points, 20 rebounds, and 4 blocks in NBA history, but they were much appreciated. Capela has rounded back into form these past three games for the Rockets and they have desperately missed his rebounding and rim protection.

Key moment: Houston really lasered in on both ends in the third quarter by scoring 36 points and only allowing the Bulls to score 18. It'll take a while for the Rockets to get there considering the hole they've put themselves in early on, but Rockets GM Daryl Morey's ambition of a top 10 defense doesn't seem so crazy after games like this.

Up next: The Rockets travel to New Orleans on Monday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the young, but feisty New Orleans Pelicans.

There are nights in the NBA where you just get completely outplayed and for Houston, this was one of them. The Nuggets came into the game with a simple, but effective gameplan: double team James Harden and let his teammates beat you. On most nights, they will, but tonight, the Rockets shot a putrid 31.6% (12-38) from three-point range. Houston also turned the ball over 20 times - really poor for a team that was averaging just 15.2 turnovers per game (12th).

The Rockets had opportunities midway through and late in this game to capitalize on Denver mistakes, but they were flummoxed by the swarming defensive approach, missed shots, and turned the ball over. The Nuggets are one of the few teams that can run with Houston and they took advantage of that, scoring 20 fast break points.

The Rockets may have had a fighting chance in this one had Danuel House not gotten hurt on an unfortunate play in which Nikola Jokic got called for a moving screen foul. House had to leave the game with shoulder soreness and did not return for the rest of the night. Without House and Gordon, the Rockets were lacking their two best shooters and had poor spacing against a Nuggets team that was trapping James Harden all night.

This doesn't excuse how badly the Rockets played. If Houston had limited their turnovers, played better defense, and hit just a fraction of the shots they missed, they could have won this game. They didn't and that's why they took home just their second regular season loss in three years against a Denver Nuggets squad that looks ready to contend in the Western Conference.

Star of the game: It's hard to pick a star for Houston after a loss like this, but I suppose the guy who played the least bad would probably be Clint Capela. Capela had 12 points, 21 rebounds, and a steal on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. Capela had to defend a handful in Nikola Jokic (27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists), but managed to be a +0 in a game in which the Rockets lost by 10.

Honorable mention: The award for "second least bad" would have to go to James Harden who logged 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 63.1% true shooting. It's also worth noting that Harden wasn't particularly good defensively, turned the ball over 8 times, and was a -17. Harden did the best he could on Denver's impressive trapping, but his performance was nonetheless a mixed bag at best.

Key moment: Denver really pulled away from Houston in the third quarter, where they outscored the Rockets 28 to 22 and hit 41.7% (5 of 12) of their three-pointers while allowing the Rockets to shoot a measly 33.3% (3 of 9).

Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Friday to take on the newly healthy duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

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