Monday, March 24, 2014

Harden Powers Rockets to Win Over Bobcats

When an NBA team sees a stretch of their schedule against teams with .500 records or worse, it can be easy to overlook them. Yet the 47-22 Rockets hadn't, winners of their past three and averaging 124 points in those contests. They had won them by an average of 23 points.

None of those wins included star center Dwight Howard. Howard was sidelined after a minor surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

The Rockets came into Charlotte Monday night, and the Bobcats punched them in the mouth, keeping the game within striking distance heading into the half only down 54-50. Howard was productive (10 points, 10 rebounds), if not his usual dominating self- thanks to Al Jefferson. Jefferson would end the game with a double-double of his own (20 points, 11 rebounds). Defensively he challenged Howard all night. Offensively was no different, crafting baskets in the post like the savvy veteran big man he is.

The game remained tight late into the third quarter. Houston trailed 66-65 at the 2:25 mark, until a fire was lit under them. They ended the quarter on a 13-2 run in large part to guard James Harden who would end the game with 31 points. He has scored at least 28 points in 4 out of the last 5 games. Included in those 31 points was a highlight reel dunk off an assist from Jordan Hamilton, giving Houston a 75-68 lead and all the momentum they needed heading into the fourth. Moments later, Harden would drill a three to give the Rockets a 10 point cushion going into the final stanza.

The fourth would once again play like the rest of the quarters early. Houston would remain up by only five points for most of the quarter, until a later spurt with 2:44 left. Harden would set the trend, as Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley would drill a pair of three's to ice the game and give Houston a fourth win in a row. Parsons had struggled a majority of the game, only having two points through three quarters. His two long-distance shots wouldn't come until the final minutes of the game.

 "Chandler made a really big transition 3 and Pat made a big 3 in the corner that kind of sealed the game," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.

The win streak stayed in tact, but the assists one did not. Houston had at least 30 assists in three straight games, but 22 Monday night. This was far better than Charlotte's 12, due in large part to the reliance on only two players (Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker). While Charlotte had the advantage at the charity stripe (21 made to Houston's 10), they came up short beyond the arc (4-21).

Houston's 48th win only solidifies their rank as 4th in the West while the 5th seeded Blazers lost to the Heat. The 3 spot remains occupied by the Los Angeles Clippers, who beat the Bucks to crack 50 wins (50-21). The Clippers have been a thorn in the side of the Rockets all season; Clipp-tonite if you will. Houston has yet to beat them, as they are 0-3 versus LAC. Saturday's match-up in Houston has huge implications for the playoffs, but neither team should overlook what is in front of them.

Houston faces the Sixers on Thursday who are coming off twenty-five straight losses, most recently to the streaking Spurs who have won 14 in a row. The Clippers face the Pelicans on Wednesday, then the Mavericks on Thursday.

Monday's win over Charlotte was the first step to Howard getting his rhythm back, with Philly serving as a nice tune-up. The Sixers lack any inside presence, and Howard should use it as an opportunity to assert himself and remind everyone of the dominant center he can be. But Monday belonged to Harden.

Kevin McHale simply said, “James just took over.”

And that's what franchise players do when it matters.

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*quotes obtained from and 

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