Dwight Howard is alive and well. He’s dunking in traffic, finishing alley-oops, defending the paint and grabbing rebounds. He suited up after a two month absence, played 16 minutes, and did all the things Dwight Howard should be doing. The Rockets also won a critical game against a division rival, gained a game on the team ahead of them, and didn’t lose anyone else to injury. To top it all off, Houston came back from a dismal first quarter to erase a 17-point deficit and in fact take a double digit lead for much of the second half. The Rockets got everything they wanted and more, and remain undefeated with Jason Terry as a starter.

James Harden, true to his promise, changed nothing with Howard back in a jersey. Harden attacked the basket, shoot his man, drew fouls, and started his evening out with a beautiful dish to a dunking Dwight. Without Patrick Beverley (torn wrist ligament) for the foreseeable future, Harden’s handling and creation abilities are coming into full focus. He responded with 10 assists to go with his 25 points, and his effect was apparent whenever he left the floor.The Rockets struggled to find any offense without Harden, but steamrolled the Pelicans with his help. Harden remains the engine that drives the team, and Houston had better hope he can get some rest and avoid injury for the rest of the season.

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Poor George Hill.

Poor Solomon Hill, poor C.J. Miles and poor Ian Mahinmi.

The poor, poor Indiana Pacers.

When James Harden is in attack mode, all you can do is pity the fool opposing team, primarily whatever sucker gets tasked with attempting to wrangle the Beard on a given play.

And Monday night in Indiana, Harden was in attack mode.  He ended the night with 44 points, thanks in large part to sinking 21(!) of his 22(!!) attempted free throws.  And this wasn’t the ref-baiting, flop-master that so many Harden detractors detest.  This was the expert scoring machine that knows how to protect his space with the ball and penetrate the defender’s all at the same time.

As much as I cherish listening to Bill Worrell talk basketball, I get a real kick out of listening to opposing broadcasts digest this Rockets team.  Harden’s Morey-Ball.  Dwight Howard’s post game.  Josh Smith’s J-Smoove-ness.  There is a lot to take in.  [read more…]

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Heading into this evening, the Houston Rockets were one game back of the second-seed Memphis Grizzlies, one game ahead of the fourth-seed Portland Trail Blazers, and an enviable situation. With Memphis and Portland facing off, the Rockets could be assured to pick up a game on one of them if they could just beat the Phoenix Suns, a team at the bottom of the playoff bubble and a team all but eliminated from that race. All Houston had to do was complete the sweep against Phoenix to make a huge stride in a close, crucial playoff race. Even in a worst-case scenario, the Rockets wouldn’t lose any ground to the Blazers.

Worst case scenarios have a way of updating themselves when you’re not looking, like phone apps or guest lists. It turns out that falling two games behind Memphis wasn’t the worst that could happen, because other, worse things happened, too. Not only did that Rockets go from being up 12 to down 13 in a quarter and a half, they also lost another big man to injury and saw one of James Harden’s worst performances of the year. Some nights, the only consolation is that lightning didn’t strike James Harden and burn his beard off.

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For about three and a half quarters tonight, I paid more attention to tonight’s broadcasting than the actual Houston Rockets game.

Calvin Murphy was back in the booth where he belongs. That boundless enthusiasm. His warstories where he described kicking his teammate Rudy Tomjanovich out of bed. And his ability to go from the game to himself to back to the game without missing a beat.

Combine that with the Championship Reunion Night at the Toyota Center, and the result was a great spectacle and series of interviews. Who cared what was going on in the court? Vernon Maxwell was walking on the court to thunderous applause! Murphy was talking with Mario Elie! With Rudy T! With Adam Silver!

And when James Harden exploded for a career-high 50 points, showcasing himself as the greatest Rocket since Dream, Murphy could barely contain himself. “This is no accident”, he said. A great night from the Beard combined with a great time from Murphy and the rest of the old Rockets, almost made this a perfect night.

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On Dwight, Josh Smith, and Parsons

  • I have next to no doubts that Dwight will come back spry and active after this extended leave.  The concern isn’t so much this year but rather the future.  Upon his return, if he looks as good as is to be expected, there will be those–the majority–who will proclaim that worries over his long-term health were unwarranted.  Given the nature of the condition, that would and will be a very foolish reaction.
  • How will Kevin McHale handle the rotation?  Having four above average to excellent big men will be an embarrassment of riches and will come as a boon in the regular season when rest rules the day in the new order of NBA thinking.  But in the playoffs?  Does anyone really think the Rockets will include all four of these men in their rotation?  Would that serve any benefit?  For instance, in the regular season, it helps to have two great bench bigs, because they’re usually playing against two other bench bigs or, one bench big and a starter who may not be at full rest.  In the postseason, when the opponent will have one starting big on the floor at all times, with players better rested, won’t Kevin McHale prefer to just keep the guys he likes most in the game longer?

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