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.