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.

Today was a obviously a really tough day for the NBA with the untimely passing of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. As the world prepared to mourn, NBA players across the country were placed in the difficult position to play a game that felt secondary and unimportant given today's events.

Unfortunately for both the Rockets and the Nuggets, this was a game with high stakes and the show had to go on. A very important tiebreaker was on the line and positioning in the Western Conference. On a human level, what both teams were able to do tonight was truly unbelievable. Every player on the court tonight grew up with Kobe Bryant in their life in some way, shape, or form and the same goes for coaches, media, and game officials. In a game like this, compliments and hat tips rule the day as it's criticisms are almost impossible to muster.

Frankly, with all the emotion and energy sucked out the building pre-game, it's surprising the game was as competitive as it was. Maybe it was the stakes, maybe it was the players knowing what Bryant would have wanted, maybe playing hard was a coping mechanism, or maybe it was some combination of the three. Whatever the case, this game was fantastic and it's unfortunate that it couldn't be enjoyed under happier circumstances.

Star of the game: Russell Westbrook continued his excellent streak of games by logging 32 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 14 of 29 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 shooting from the free throw line. As with previous games, Westbrook stuck with attacking the basket or attempting mid-range jumpers and largely avoided the three-point line (one attempted). Westbrook will not play in Utah tomorrow due to rest.

Honorable mention: Eric Gordon had 19 points off the bench for Houston on 55.6% true shooting. Despite being only 2 for 10 from three-point range, Gordon was aggressive in attacking the basket (seven free throws attempted and made) and found a way to be an efficient contributor for the Rockets.

Key moment: If there was a moment the Rockets could have caught up and took the lead back from the Nuggets it was midway through the fourth quarter. Houston was down 93-94 at the 9:15 mark and allowed an 11-4 run which ended with Ben McLemore not closing out on Michael Porter Jr. before Mike D'Antoni ultimately called timeout. Houston was never able to recover from that.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Utah tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. to take on the Jazz.

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