Doubling down. Literally.
The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Hornets in Houston 125-110
It may take 50 games for the fanbase to buy into Mike D'Antoni's small-ball approach, but they'd struggle to make a hard-case that it hasn't been a winning formula for the Rockets. They've now won four games in a row in which they've played without a traditional center for 90% of the minutes. Their strategy is simple: give up the rebounding battle and win the turnover battle.
It's pretty clear that the Rockets have made the fundamental switch to small-ball as a full-time ideology. Few teams have gone this all-in, but they clearly have confidence in their ability to win this way.
"I think with small ball it's just making good decisions," said P.J. Tucker after the game. "It's all guards out there so everybody making good decisions and making decisions for each other and plays for each other and getting open shots."
At the time of writing this, the Houston Rockets just swung a massive trade for swingman Robert Covington, giving up Clint Capela, Gerald Green, and a first round pick. This means they not only will continue with this style of play, but they've doubled down on it. Houston views the center position as an expendable asset and wings as more conducive to their style of play.
This isn't the proper article to break down a massive trade like this, but it fits in with the ethos - Houston's picked an identity that they want to play and they're going to double down on it for the rest of the season. Whether it'll lead them to the promise land is a different conversation, but there's no question whether or not they believe it.
Star of the game: Games like this remind you how much of an offensive hub James Harden can be by himself for an elite offense if he was asked to. The Rockets surrounded Harden with nothing but shooters for 45 minutes (Isaiah Hartenstein played 3 minutes off the bench) as he tallied 40 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block on 11 of 26 shooting from the field, 4 of 11 shooting from three-point range, and 14 of 15 shooting from the free throw line.
Honorable mention: On a night where they really needed someone other than James Harden to show up, Danuel House took the bill. House tallied 22 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, and 1 steal on 8 of 13 shooting from the field and 6 of 11 from three-point range. Over his last five games, House is averaging 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 44.1% shooting from the field and 43.2% shooting from three-point range. House seems to have his confidence back, his jumper is falling again, and he's imposing his will in transition.
Key moment: Much like Sunday night against the Pelicans, Sunday night is where Houston really bunkered down defensively, allowing only 22 points and out-rebounding the Pelicans 13-9. James Harden completely destroyed Charlotte's defense in this quarter as well, scoring 14 of his 40 points on 5 of 10 shooting from the field and 3 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc.
Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 on Thursday to take on the Lakers.