Important Victory

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat the Nuggets in Houston 130-104

This was as important of a win as the Rockets are going to get this season. The Denver Nuggets are one of Houston's direct rivals in the Western Conference and Houston dropping a game earlier in the season to them hurt. The tiebreaker between these two teams has the possibility of becoming really valuable down the line so preventing Denver from getting it tonight was huge.

The Nuggets were also one of the first teams to effectively employ the trapping scheme on James Harden so Houston being able to show that they can counter that as effectively as they did tonight is also big. There's a non-zero chance Denver is one of the teams Houston will have to get through in the playoffs so this game could serve a blueprint for Houston.

Eric Gordon's return has been huge for Houston (7 of 12 from three-point range in two games) and his threat from beyond the arc provides an instant solution to teams running to trap Harden. D'Antoni went to Gordon several times in this game when the traps started to work for a brief period. Gordon also took away a significant minute burden away from Westbrook and Harden tonight (both played 34 minutes).

Surprisingly, one of the big stories of this game may end up being 21-year old big man Isaiah Hartenstein securing the backup center role in the rotation for Houston. Hartenstein posted his first NBA career double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal on 6 of 8 shooting from the field and 4 of 6 shooting from the charity stripe) off the bench in 14 minutes. The Rockets have struggled to find competent and reliable backup center minutes all season so Hartenstein emergence could help shore up one of their weakest roster spots.

Star of the game: James Harden continued his trend of playing unbelievable on New Year's Eve, tallying 35 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal on 10 of 17 shooting from the field and 6 of 9 shooting from three-point range. Harden did this on a surprisingly low 34 minutes as the Rockets were able to pull away from the Nuggets late and Eric Gordon provided some much needed depth for Houston's guard rotation.

Honorable mention: With the Nuggets trapping James Harden hard early on, Russell Westbrook responded by attacking the basket, hitting tough mid-range jumpers, and finding teammates for open shots. Westbrook had 28 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds on 11 for 22 shooting and 6 of 6 shooting from the free throw line.

Key moment: After the Rockets had as much as a 17-point lead earlier in the game, the Nuggets had cut it to 92-89 by the end of the third quarter. Houston responded with a 19-3 run to open the fourth quarter and effectively put the Nuggets away.

Up next: The Rockets play their next game in Houston on Friday at 7:00 p.m. against the Philadelphia 76ers.

With no James Harden, Russell Westbrook, or Clint Capela, the Utah Jazz were justifiably favored to win this game by 14 points. However, through creativity and relentless attack from Houston's backup guards, the Rockets managed to win an unwinnable game on the second half of a grueling Denver/Utah back-to-back.

Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers showed how helpful they could be for Houston off the bench by combining for 71 points on 21 of 43 shooting from the field and 8 of 19 shooting from three-point range. The Rockets went small with P.J. Tucker at center and strangely, the Rockets were able to keep his minutes to only 32. Houston took advantage of their quickness matchup and relentlessly targeted Rudy Gobert on the perimeter.

Danuel House played a ton of minutes due to the lack of guard depth behind Gordon and Rivers and the positional versatility he has, being a 6'7" player. It'll be interesting to see if House or Gordon return to Houston's starting lineup soon. Ben McLemore's minutes have been tracking down and both House and Gordon have been playing much better as of late.

Whatever the case, this was a huge win for the Rockets. Houston's now won 3 out of their last 4 games after losing 4 games in a row. This was supposed to be an automatic loss and the Rockets managed to pull it off. It's the kind of win that could spark a run for a struggling team.

Star of the game: The journey Eric Gordon's gone through since he's been drafted has been a long one. From being traded to dealing with injuries, Gordon's career hasn't been easy by any means. To see him have the night he did tonight was nice. Gordon had a career-high 50 points on 14 of 22 shooting from the field, 6 of 11 shooting from deep, and 16 of 20 shooting from the free throw line.

Honorable mention: Danuel House started the season by earning his way into Houston's starting lineup and has since been in a bit of a slump. Tonight, however, House was integral to Houston's victory. In addition to playing a staggering 46 minutes, House tallied 21 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals, and 2 assists on 6 of 14 shooting from the field, 2 of 5 shooting from distance, and 7 of 9 shooting from the free throw line.

Key moment: After starting the game down 0-4, the Rockets went on an impressive 11-0 run and never looked back. On the backs of Eric Gordon (50 points), Danuel House (21 points), and Austin Rivers (21 points), Houston led a balanced offensive attack throughout the course of the game and never really waivered.

Up next: The Rockets finish off their road trip on Wednesday by traveling to Portland at 9:00 p.m. to face the Trail Blazers.

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