James Harden: 25 Pts, 10 Asts, 6 Rebs
Anthony Davis: 24 Pts, 14 Rebs, 3 Stls, 3 Blks
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. That appears to be the creed stapled into the Rockets misfortune. After missing Dwight Howard for 26 games with swelling in his right knee, he finally returned in a duel with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Unfortunately, Patrick Beverley stood in for Howard on the sideline after tearing a ligament in his wrist Monday night that can possibly cost him the season.
Terrence Jones remains out indefinitely with a collapsed lung too. But the consensus seems to be that as long as James Harden can play, the Rockets stand a chance.
Coach Kevin McHale made it clear that Howard would play with minutes restriction (15-20 mins) during his return. In his first game back, he logged four points (2-3 FGs), seven rebounds and one block in 16 minutes of action. He toured the floor for about four minutes per quarter and moved well enough for Houston fans to be optimistic.
With Beverley out, the Rockets’ started Jason Terry at the point guard position. Terry and Pablo Prigioni swapped turns filling in for Beverley to compensate his defense with their offense. They received several looks but only combined for four points (1-7 FGs). Howard’s, Terry’s and Prigioni’s lack of production was counterpoised by Trevor Ariza and Donatas Motiejunas though. They both scored 20+ points along with Harden in a tough win over New Orleans.
The Pelicans jumped off to a hot start by claiming a 12 point lead eight minutes into the first quarter. Houston turned the ball over four times in their first seven possessions and New Orleans capitalized on each turnover. The Pelicans came out with more energy than the Rockets as Houston tried to give Howard some early touches. One of his two field goals did bring joy to Rockets fans across the globe.
Tyreke Evans and Davis took full advantage of Howard’s rusty return and the Rockets’ lack of defensive guards. Evans scored 14 points (6-6 FGs) and Davis put in nine points in the opening period. Harden finished the first with a quiet six points as the Rockets found themselves in an early 15-point hole.
In the second period, Harden started on the bench as usual. Josh Smith and Motiejunas held down the fort until Harden returned from his rest. He reentered with 6:58 to go and put on another MVP showcase. The Rockets were down 14 when Harden stepped back on the floor but they went on a 22-10 run to close the quarter and close the gap to three.
After halftime, the Rockets were ready for liftoff. Harden continued to exhibit his offensive skills as most defenders could only watch. The one time they decided to provide some help, Harden delivered a message that I’m sure made several spectators spill their popcorn.
Following his colossal slam, the Pelicans began cheating forward to prevent any drives from Harden. In exchange, Ariza was left wide open for a pair of back-to-back threes to put Houston up by five. Whether it was Harden, Terry or Ariza, the Rockets continued to attack the lane and the Pelicans did just the opposite. Harden scored or assisted on 24 of the 29 Rockets points that quarter to increase their lead 78-70. Davis was only one for three during that stretch.
Harden sat the beginning of the fourth but Motiejunas stepped up once again. He dazzled his defenders with his signature pivot-spin move and sank six points before Harden came back on the floor. A scary moment for Pelicans fans occurred when Davis made a great steal but collided with Corey Brewer. He did return to the game.
In the final minutes, the Pelicans made a push. Harden received the ball with three seconds on the shot clock, missed his jumper and Motiejunas was called for a loose ball foul that sent Davis to the line with a chance to cut the lead to one. Davis split the pair of free throws and sent Harden to the line with three seconds remaining. He split his free throws as well and the Pelicans called a timeout while down three points. Eric Gordon received the inbound pass but was fouled immediately. He knocked down his first free throw, intentionally missed the second but time expired before they could convert a shot.
What To Take Away
- As usual, the Rockets were careless with the basketball. They turned the ball over 18 times. Many of those turnovers came from ill-advised passes. Despite their injuries, they still have a chance to make a deep playoff run but they desperately need to address that bad habit.
- In Howard’s first game back, he looked a bit rusty offensively. Defensively, he didn’t fascinate anyone but his presence progressively made a difference.
- You have to wonder how much Harden has left in the tank. Prigioni and Terry need to make life a bit easier for him by making jumpers because believe or not, he’s going to wear down in the postseason after a compilation of aggressive fouls.
- Motiejunas, Smith and Ariza are huge X-factors to this Rockets’ engine. Smith needs to continue to shoot the ball with confidence and Motiejunas and Ariza must be catalysts for the reserves when Harden gets his rest. That seems to be the only time Houston finds themselves in a hole.
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