Another week down, another week of dominating performance from the Rockets. After dismantling the Thunder and Bucks, Houston’s latest winning streak met its end at 17 games against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. The Rockets would quickly recover, rest MVP candidate James Harden, and obliterate the Mavericks on Sunday afternoon. In spite of the loss, Houston increased its conference lead against the Golden State Warriors to 1.5 games and maintains the best overall record in the NBA.
Game 63: Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (W, 122-112)
Houston fans were looking forward to this rematch since the end of December, when the Thunder defeated a Rockets squad sans Harden. At full strength, Houston weathered a turnover-riddled first half while maintaining a healthy lead over OKC. Harden was less than polished, commiting 10 turnovers on his own. Chris Paul picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 25 points overall. Harden finished with 23, while Ariza finished with 15 of his own.
Game 64: Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks (W, 110-99)
With their winning streak reaching 16 games, the Rockets arrived in Milwaukee the following night to take on another playoff eligible squad. Much like the night before, however, a seemingly competitive matchup turned into yet another cruising victory. The Rockets looked more than anything as if they were just going through the motions while they maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game. Harden led with 26 points, and Eric Gordon followed with 18. Chris Paul chipped in 16 and 11 assists.
Game 65: Rockets at Toronto Raptors (L, 108-105)
After a day of rest, the Rockets headed north of the border to extend try and even the season series against the Raptors, while keeping their streak intact. From the outset, Houston found itself in what has lately become unfamiliar territory: trailing in a game. Not only were the Rockets trailing, they were basically being run out of building. With Toronto’s lead ballooning all the way to 19 at one point, Houston knew it needed to get to work. The second half of the game saw a much more focused Rockets squad, and Harden set to work chipping away at the Raptors’ lead. Clutch shot after clutch shot drew Houston to within one point with 10 seconds left in regulation, but a pair of key free throws from Toronto sent the Rockets home with a broken streak. Harden finished the night with 40 points, while no other Rocket scored higher than 14.
Game 66: Rockets at Dallas Mavericks (W, 105-82)
The Mavericks didn’t deserve to be the Rockets’ next opponent, following their first defeat since late January. Whoever Houston played was going to bear the brunt of a frustrated and refocused Houston squad, and even with Harden resting Sunday afternoon Dallas was easily outmatched. Gordon covered for Harden’s absence, leading the team with 26 points, while Paul added 24 points and 12 assists. This was the fourth and final matchup against Dallas this season and the win made this the second year in a row that Houston has swept the Mavericks regular season matchups.
Monday the Rockets will see the Spurs at home for the third matchup of the season between the two teams. Following that, Houston hosts the Clippers on Thursday before heading out on the road next weekend against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves.
The Spurs have proven to be an easy out this season, but I’ve seen too much of Gregg Popovich's sorcery over the years to ever feel 100% confident with any San Antonio matchup. The Clippers should be an easy win, unlike Saturday’s contest against New Orleans--provided Anthony Davis plays. The Timberwolves have been outclassed by the Rockets all season, and this season series finally should prove no different. In all, I expect Houston to continue churning through their schedule to close out the last few weeks of the regular season.