The Rockets couldn’t overcome an injury report longer than a receipt from CVS despite another monster performance from James Harden. Missed free-throws sunk Houston late, as they fell to Brooklyn 145-142 in overtime.

Without Clint Capela, Mike D’Antoni opted to start the game with an uber small lineup that included Gary Clark at center. The Rockets new lineup didn’t start the game well on the defensive end of the ball. A few wide open dunks and lay-ups opened up the floor for Brooklyn, and the Nets took a 15-point lead early.

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A collapse against the Orlando Magic last night and the news of Clint Capela’s injury this afternoon had a lot of Rockets fans dreading this game against the Memphis Grizzlies. No Capela, and with still no Chris Paul, no Eric Gordon, and no Brandon Knight the starting lineup featured Nene, PJ Tucker, Danuel House, and Austin Rivers. On the second night of a back to back, depleted by injuries, and going up against a tough and physical Memphis team it looked like tonight would be hopeless.

But, we have a James Harden.

It’s like that scene in the first Avengers movie where Tony Stark is talking to Loki about how the Avengers are going to defeat Loki and Loki is all confident and smug about how that can’t happen and he says “I have an army” and Tony Stark instantly replies “we have a Hulk!” Loki is the rest of the NBA, Rockets fans are Tony Stark, and James Harden is the Hulk.

James Harden scored 57 points on 17-33 from the field and 17-18 from the free throw line. The rest of the Rockets, scrappy as ever, scored 55 points on 20-51 from the field and 3-4 from the free throw line. The only other Rockets players in double figures were Danuel House (15), Austin Rivers (11), and Gerald Green off the bench (14). It was the James Harden show again tonight, and what a glorious show it was. Former Rockets assistant JB Bickerstaff and the Grizzlies tried just about everything they could to stop Harden. They attempted to double team him and force him into bad passes like we saw the Bucks do recently, they tried the Spurs/Jazz strategy of running him off the three point line and having a big stay home at the rim to force him into mid range shots, they tried switching, none of it was working and that was clear immediately when he had 36 points at halftime. James Harden is in a different plane of existence at this point and we should all be grateful we get to experience it in real time. He’s going for that 2nd MVP and at this rate he’s absolutely going to get it.

House, Rivers, Green, and Gary Clark are all worthy of praise tonight as well. House (+7), Rivers (+22), and Clark (+24) all played excellent defense throughout their extended minutes and Gerald Green had a stretch where he got hot from 3 and knocked in 4 from downtown when they were needed. There was a stretch to start the 4th quarter where Harden sat and without him in the game the Rockets were able to build separation, going from a 5 point lead to a 12 point lead. Once Harden came back the game quickly got out of hand and the Rockets led by as much as 20, eventually clearing the bench with about 3 minutes to go. Danuel House, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and Gary Clark probably can’t play 25+ minutes each in the playoffs, but if James Harden can be anywhere near this level when Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela all get healthy again this team will be all the more dangerous for treading water after tossing the young guys into the deep end.

Thanks for checking in after a happy night in Houston. Eurostep a hater at work tomorrow in honor of James Harden’s greatness.

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Rockets Spiritless in Defeat in Orlando

Mike D’antoni often talks about the team finding the right spirit to compete. It can seem pseudo-religious, and we all have our basketball superstitions (The Basketball Gods, Ball Don’t Lie, yelling “Kobe” when we throw trash at a trash can, etc). Tonight, in Orlando, the spirit definitely evaded the Good Guys. The Rockets lost despite multiple opportunities to put this one away, eventually yielding to a late Orlando run despite being up ten with eight minutes left in the fourth. From that moment on, the Magic went on a 26-9 run. The final score was Magic 116 and your Houston Rockets 109.

The narratives coming out of this will center on Harden going 1-17 from 3, despite his ending with an enviable stat line: 38 PTS, 9 REB, 12 AST, and 4 STL, and 15 of 16 from the charity stripe. There will be talk of Harden shooting us out of the game, and it may be deserved. Losing by seven in a game where he missed 16 threes, especially where some of those shots were clearly forced as he felt the game getting away from him in the fourth, is downright Westbrookian. Still, the good far outweighs the bad with Harden, and though his struggles from three will be the main story, there are two other narratives worth monitoring.

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