James Harden: 24 Pts, 6 Asts, 3 Rebs, 2 Stls, 1 Blk
John Wall: 25 Pts, 12 Asts, 8 Rebs, 4 Stls, 1 Blk
In the wake of the Houston Rockets clinching a playoff birth, they also intruded on the Wizards opportunity to clinch a postseason spot of their own. Houston’s win over Washington advanced their win total to 50. They are now tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the second seed and will certainly be watching tonight’s showdown between the Grizzlies and Spurs.
- Including this loss, the Wizards have dropped four of their last five. Disregarding Washington’s recent slump and keying in on their third best home record in the East, the Rockets fascinated viewers with their exceptional teamwork. Despite the 15 lineup changes this season, they’re coming along admirably. Harden didn’t shoot the ball well (7-20 FGs for 24 points) but a well rounded effort from his teammates resulted in a win. They moved the ball, locked down the paint on defense and expanded their win streak to four.
- Josh Smith recorded his second consecutive double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He’s been playing well and confident as of late. In Houston’s last four wins, Smith has averaged 52 percent from three. Not to mention, he’s been delivering better entry passes to cutters and Howard when he’s fronted and serves as a skillful rim protector on fast breaks.
- The team defense seems to be improving every game. The Rockets held the Wizards seven points under their season average. Washington came into the game with the fourth highest field goal percentage at 46 percent. Houston held them to only 38 percent today. I’d say that Howard’s return has propelled them to new heights.
- The Rockets finally got through a game with Harden resting momentarily and maintaining a solid lead. The bench provided a great spark with aggressive drives and timely jumpers. Pablo Prigioni snapped his cold streak and delivered 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals from the bench. That’s a huge sigh of relief considering Beverley’s absence.
- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Rockets fast-paced style of play may be the root of this problem, but it could still be solved without sacrificing speed. Plenty of their errors are ill-advised. They launch too many home-run passes. Although Houston placed six players in double figures, they only tallied 18 total assists. Even more atrocious, they accounted for 19 turnovers.
- Howard has been a blessing for Houston since his return and appears to be regaining his talents, but he will not be available next game. He has yet to be cleared to play back-to-back games. The Rockets will have to exhibit near-perfection tomorrow in Toronto. It would help if Harden had an MVP-esque type game too.
- Another area of concern for Houston is their free throw efficiency. Harden makes up for some of their misfires with his high-efficiency but the Rockets are still towards the bottom of the barrel in terms of percentage. Combined with their turnovers, that could lead to inconvenient losses.
James Harden and Josh Smith assembled well in the first quarter. Following six Houston turnovers in less than five minutes in the first period, the duo were responsible for 19 of the next 26 points scored by the Rockets. Smith also gathered five boards as he picked up exactly where he left off versus the Timberwolves. The Rockets surrendered eight first quarter turnovers but the Wizards accrued five of their own. Houston ended the period on a Harden three pointer to give them a 28-20 lead.
Dwight Howard continued his limited action with his first double-double since his return. Howard posted 11 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes. He registered three fouls early in the second quarter but the Rockets already conquered a 14-point lead that was led by a flurry of Corey Brewer and Howard buckets. John Wall and Bradley Beal began attacking in transition but continued to trail the Rockets by 13 at the half after a Harden floater buzzer beater.
Both teams started the second half poorly for the first eight minutes. Wall attempted to pull his team closer by scoring or assisting on the Wizards last 12 points. He helped slash the lead under double figures. Brewer sank a floater at the buzzer to give the Rockets a nine point advantage.
Otto Porter saw plenty of second half action with Paul Pierce (1-6 FGs) struggling from the field. He contributed early in the fourth and helped cut the lead to four after a made three. That would be as close as the Wizards would get as they could not prevent Houston from getting to the line.
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