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The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets roll past Suns 139-125

It's possible the Rockets go the entire season before ever figuring it out defensively, but offensively, they've clearly reached their apex. The Rockets posted an ungodly offensive rating of 137.2 tonight and more importantly, were carried by their two stars.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 77 points, 17 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals on 26 of 48 shooting from the field, 10 of 21 shooting from three-point range, and 15 of 18 shooting from the free throw line. This game adds to what is starting to become a very significant sample size of games where Westbrook is starting to figure it out in this offense next to Harden.

There had been suspicions that Westbrook's hand was inhibiting his shooting performances, so this may be a little reassuring to Rockets fans who perhaps feared that his jumpshot was completely broken.

"I'm a positive guy," said Westbrook after the game. "When I got here, I told guys, 'There's going to be adversity. When adversity hits, what are you going to do?' I've been through so many different things in my career. My whole mindset has been positive."

The sustainability of Westbrook knocking down these tough mid-range jumpers may be something to watch moving forward, but overall, he's looked like a totally different player as of late, including tonight.

Star of the game: In all likelihood, James Harden will not be playing professional basketball in 10 years. I say that to say, it's important to appreciate what he's doing for now because it's so easy to take 47-point games for granted when Harden gets them so frequently. However, this bears repeating, this not normal and Harden's otherworldly talents deserve to be admired now before they're gone.

Harden posted a line of 47 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 block on 15 of 27 shooting from the field, 9 of 19 three-point shooting, and 8 of 9 shooting from the free throw line. That would make for an absurd true shooting percentage of 75.9%. Even though the Suns aren't worldbeaters defensively, this was a ridiculous performance.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook is averaging 27.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 1.9 steals on 52.1% true shooting in the month of December. It appears he has started to finally figure out the dynamic of playing alongside Harden, specifically leading second units. Westbrook finished the night with 30 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 11 of 21 shooting from the field, 1 of 2 shooting from three-point range, and 7 of 9 shooting from the free throw line.

Key moment: This game was actually consistently within a 10-point margin for the majority of the game. That changed, however, at the 9:37 mark of the 4th quarter where the Rockets increased their 115-107 lead to 136-116 at the 3:58 mark. James Harden scored or assisted on 16 of these 21 points, including making 4 of his 5 three-pointers attempted.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Sacramento at 9:00 p.m. on Monday to take on the Kings.

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After a "qualifying round" of playoffs, the actual Stanley Cup playoffs are here. In a weird hockey world that saw two 12 seeds win in round one and the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference finish last in the round robin and get a four seed, things appear wide open. The lower seeds may actually have a bit of an advantage at the beginning of these series, as they have already gone through an actual elimination round, while the top four seeds played a less intense round robin. As teams still adjust to a long layoff, more upsets could be in order. It should be fun. Here is a look at the matchups:


Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)

The Flyers were dominant in the round-robin phase and look very much like a team that can make a deep run. Montreal was the lowest seed in the qualifying tournament, but stunned Pittsburgh, and were the better team throughout the series. Philly, however, is playing much better hockey than their Pennsylvania counterparts. The Canadiens will need a big effort from goalie Carey Price, who is capable of stealing games. Young Flyers goalie Carter Hart was outstanding in the two round-robin games he played and is an emerging star. Philly has more talent, but a goalie like Price can win a series.

Prediction: Flyers in 5.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Tampa is as talented a group as you will find in the NHL. They have depth on all lines, terrific defensemen and an elite goalie. Yet they have a checkered playoff past. Last season, they were dominant in the regular season and looked like a Cup lock. They were promptly swept out of the first round by the Jackets. Columbus outplayed a similarly talented team in Toronto in round one and are a tough matchup. Can the Lightning be struck down twice? Absolutely.

Prediction: Jackets in 7.

Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Islanders (6)

The Caps still have Alex Ovechkin and a recent Stanley Cup, and have to be considered a contender against whoever they play. But the Isles play terrific defense, grind you down and get just enough scoring to win games. Plus they have the coach who won the Cup with the Caps, Barry Trotz, which gives them another edge. The Isles are a long shot Cup contender and could pull off the upset.

Prediction: Islanders in 7.

Boston Bruins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (5)

The Bruins were the best team in the league in the regular season, but played flat in the round robin, winding up with a fourth seed. It seems a little unfair that they dominated all year but three games determined their fate, but that's life. By now they should have figured things out again and should be able to advance. They are a tricky team, because if they play as poorly as they did last week, Carolina could knock them out. But the Bruins should get better the deeper they get in the playoffs. The Hurricanes have a rising star in Andrei Svechnikov, who had a hat trick in the first round against the Rangers. The Bruins, however, are deeper, more talented and have the more tested and reliable goalie in Tukka Rask.

Prediction: Bruins in 5.


Las Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8)

The Golden Knights were impressive in the round-robin, and looked like they did not miss a beat from the break. They were on a 8-2 run before the Rona interruption and swept the three seeding games since. But the Blackhawks are a scary matchup. They dominated Edmonton in the play-in round, winning 3-1 despite being the last team to qualify. They are young and shaky on defense, but still have proven Cup winners like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford. It would be foolish to count them out, but the Oilers were a much better matchup for the Hawks. If Crawford dominates in net, they have a fighting chance. But the Knights are on a different level right now.

Prediction: Las Vegas in 6.

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (7)

This might be one of the more intriguing matchups of this round. The Avs look like a Cup contender, and Nathan MacKinnon is an MVP candidate and might be one of the most underappreciated superstars in the league. The Coyotes, however, are going to be a tough out. Goalie Darcy Kempner faced a ton of shots against the Predators and held up well. He will have to do the same here. Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel provide top end forward play, and Arizona matches up OK here. The Avs should win, but don't be shocked if they are pushed hard.

Prediction: Avs in 6.

Dallas Stars (3) vs. Calgary Flames (6)

Dallas is an interesting team. The Stars have Stanley Cup-level talent, but they struggle to score at times, which could be a problem in a seven-game series. They play strong D and have great goaltending, but have issues with quicker teams, which bodes well for Calgary. The Flames are also a bit of an enigma, but they seem built for the playoffs. They have two young American-born stars in Johnny Gaudreu and Matthew Tkachuk, solid depth up front and on the back end and can hold their own with most teams. Cam Talbot is the key, however. If he can consistently man the goal the way he did in the series win over Winnipeg, they have a big shot. He finished off the series with a 31-save shutout.

Prediction: Flames in 7.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)

The defending champs were not very good in the round-robin, hence the four seed. But it will probably work out; the Canucks are an easier matchup than what they would have faced with Calgary as a 3 seed. Vancouver is an interesting young team. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are two up and coming stars, but the rest of the lineup is bolstered by gritty vets. Defensemen Quinn Hughes is another young star in the making. Goalie Jacob Markstrom was solid against Minnesota, but he will need to be better in this round. The Canucks could have made a run against Dallas, but hard to see them beating the champs.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

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