The Houston Rockets fell to the Denver Nuggets, ending a feel-good three game win streak. The Nuggets move to 19-3 in Denver, tied (With OKC) for the best home record in the league. The Rockets played a competitive game for thirty-five minutes leading by eight with one minute left in the third period. The Nuggets then rattled off a 19-1 run that lasted the next five game minutes, and Houston never recovered.
Danilo Gallinari exploded into a white-hot fury of scoring, unleashing 27 points on an astonishing 10-17 shooting in a torrent of threes (4 makes out of nine), layups, and an arena-shattering dunk. While he was left alone in the corner too often (a Rockets habit), Gallinari was simply unstoppable, hitting shots seemingly at will. He made the Rockets pay for their lax defense, and his threes were the daggers that established Denver’s unbreakable lead.
On the other side of the ball, the Rockets scored in a balanced game, and continue to exhibit signs of returning to form. The Rockets faced a team that is almost a mirror match, with a top offense, high pace, high turnovers and a young roster. These games have proven hard for Houston, with their poor defense sealing their fate. Their poor shooting and ugly offense of mid-January seems to be behind them, with all five starters and Toney Douglas scoring in double digits.
Harden had an off game, and not coincidentally was subject to Andre Iguodala’s crushing perimeter defense. He shot only 6-13 from the field, missed 4 of his 12 free throws and turned the ball over 6 times. The Nuggets defense centered on him, and picked up plenty of fast break points for their efforts.
Lin, on the other hand, capitalized on the Nuggets Harden focus, and had a strong outing. He led the Rockets with 22 points 8-15 shooting, was aggressive in looking to score around the rim, and did a great job keeping his dribble alive while probing the defense. He limited his turnovers to a mere single giveaway, and dished out a solid 5 assists. If Lin can continue to play this way when Harden is being limited, he’ll help the Rockets stay in and win games.
Parsons also leapt on board, driving to the rack and passing on a couple three point looks. Parsons took a page from Harden’s book on one fast break, suddenly changing speeds to make an open look. He shot 3-7 from deep, but 5-6 from inside the arc to pick up 21 points. Parsons was just named as a sophomore in the NBA Shooting Stars Competition, and performances like this are the reason.
Patterson and Asik both had similar shooting to get 10 point lines, but Asik had a phenomenal 18 rebounds and a terrible 7 turnovers. Asik is a player who is still developing his offensive game, and is liable to be preyed upon by defenses from time to time. Patterson grabbed 5 rebounds, which is low for his position, but average for him.
The bench had a slow night, with only Toney Douglas having a solid outing. Douglas stole the ball on back to back possessions in the third quarter, picking up 4 points in 16 seconds. Morris, Smith and Delfino all shot poorly, and Smith barely played at all despite looking decent.
Despite picking up a loss, the Rockets have reason for optimism as they prepare to face the Bobcats in Houston. The offense, which died with the Rockets’ legs for two weeks, has returned. The defense was never truly there, and the Nuggets are a team that scores in bunches. The Rockets lost during a brief stretch, ugly as it was. Houston’s young lineup wins with talent, but loses with immaturity. Frustrating losses today can be stepping stones tomorrow.