Late in the second quarter, as the Rockets trailed the Nuggets by 8, James Harden streaked down the court on a fast break, nailing an impossible-looking layup and drawing the foul. Rockets commentator Matt Bullard excitedly declared that James Harden was “like the Millennium Falcon, trying to get in there!” Unlike in the movies, however, Houston’s Millennium Falcon lit on fire and fell out of the sky on the way to a blowout loss to the gelling Denver Nuggets. With 23 turnovers on the night, the Rockets dug themselves a hole too big to blast out of.
James Harden, the aforementioned hyperdrive-powered starship, had a poor outing for him, shooting a sub-par 8-17 from the field, only getting 5 free throws, and turning the ball over a mortifying 7 times. Harden was at times the only Rocket who seemed to have the energy and will to fight back into the game. Unfortunately, the Nuggets had no interest in letting that happen, and played aggressive defense on Harden all night long. James Harden suffered a hit to the eye, but returned to the game shortly and seemed perfectly fine.
Patterson, despite playing only sparse minutes (14:48) had a decent outing. He shot 4-7 and had 10 points, though his rebounding numbers continued to be below expectations (only one). Marcus Morris, his primary competition at the power forward position, also chipped in 10 points, including 2-3 from downtown. He pulled in 5 boards in his 24 minutes, and looked ready to continue his recent streak of decent play. Both power forwards have run hot and cold lately, and with Royce White allegedly close to playing for Houston, the 4 spot looks to be unpredictable in the coming weeks.
Carlos Delfino had a decent night, knocking down half his shots overall, but only 3-8 from deep. Despite having the ability to knock down shots from seemingly any depth behind the arc, he evens that positive out with a propensity to have poor shooting nights. Parsons, for his part, faded from the game, leaving Delfino to play the greater minutes total at the small forward. Parsons managed only 6 points on 25% shooting.
Patrick Beverley and Toney Douglas dueled for the backup guard position, with Patrick playing in the first half, then Toney playing in the second half. Both played together briefly, but their effectiveness was limited. Despite having a good ration of assists to turnovers (5:1), Beverely missed all three of his shots, all of which were from downtown. Toney Douglas, on the other hand, shot 4-11 for 8 points, but only dished 2 dimes. While head coach Kevin McHale seems inclined to give Beverely ample time to prove himself, the minute distribution in the guard rotation seems as up in the air as anything.
The remaining Rockets starters, Lin and Asik, both had middling nights. Lin shot a poor 3-7 and only had 3 assists (and 2 turnovers), but he showed a couple flashes of aggression, including a very impressing and-one layup. Lin will have to continue to attack the rim with more consistency if the Rockets hope to cement a playoff spot. Asik grabbed a very solid 13 rebounds, and shot 3-5, including a surprising athletic flash to the rim. Even in his quiet games, Asik has been consistent and solid for Houston, and is clearly not going to lose his starting spot unless an unthinkable trade goes down.
The Rockets got out to an early deficit, following a 7-2 run with 8 first quarter turnovers and an 11-0 Nuggets run. Despite clawing back into the game in the second quarter, the Rockets collapsed in an ugly 36-22 third quarter. The Nuggets pulled ahead by 20 points, and the game was clearly decided early in the fourth. The lead was trimmed to 10 in garbage time, and for the last 18 mintes the game wasn’t close at all. The Rockets quite simply gave the game away in the form of 23 turnovers. Uneven play is to be expected from young teams, but seeing their sloppy, dispirited games so soon after playing fantastically in December seems to be taking an emotional toll.
The Rockets, despite beginning to shoot closer to average (44.6% overall, 32.4% from three), and beginning to get a sliver of rest, still have a lot of work to do. Their defense continues to be inconsistent at best, and their transition defense is basically nonexistent. As the Rockets hover just above .500, someone will have to come up with some answers soon.