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.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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