In the 2015-16 season the Houston Rockets acquired former Nuggets’ guard Ty Lawson in an attempt to move James Harden off the ball. That year Denver swept Houston three games to none and held Lawson to a combined 14 points in 84 total minutes. Since Lawson was cut in March of that year the Rockets had won each of the next 12 contests between the two franchises. Some speculated that the Denver Nuggets would never beat Houston again.
Last night, at 11:31 central time on the first of February, the Curse of Ty Lawson was broken. The Denver Nuggets beat the Houston Rockets 136-122.
In spite of the blowout, Houston put up respectable totals. They lost the turnover battle by two, had one fewer of each steals and blocks, and were within range of the Nuggets on the boards. Even their percentages were solid, as they bested their season stats from three and the field. On any given night it would have been enough. In Denver, it wasn’t.
The Nuggets shot well from the three and the stripe at 45 and 87 percent respectively, and an incredible 73 percent on field goals inside the arc. Nikola Jokic and Malik Beasley, who scored 66 of Denver’s 136 points, shot a combined 18 of 21 on twos. Monte Morris and Torrey Craig also had their way on the inside, hitting 10 of 12 shots on the interior. The other five Nuggets who took shots didn’t suck either, hitting 50 percent of their 18 looks from 2. Really, there was no tier of Nugget that the Rockets could hope to contain. A ten-pack of chicken nuggets could have hung 120 on Houston and saved the Kroenkes millions in the process.
It’s hard to blame one player when everybody has the runs, but Kenneth Faried brought the sushi. Starting for the injured Clint Capela, the under-sized Faried began the game guarding Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic. The Serbian big man made it clear early that that was not going to work, backing down the smaller man and putting the ball up on a shelf Faried would have needed a ladder to reach.
Despite Jokic’s early success in the post, the Rockets took an eight-point lead into the second quarter on the strength of a 43-point first. Faried was so bad in the post, however, that in the second Houston opted to put PJ Tucker and then James Harden on the big man, moving Faried on to whichever Nugget was next in line. This was a disaster. Tucker and Harden were also completely helpless against Jokic, and Faried was even worse against the Nuggets’ smalls. Denver got whatever they wanted that quarter: post ups, back cuts, transition points, ball screens, or isolations. It didn’t matter. The Rockets’ defenders might as well have been emotional support dogs, guiding Nuggets to the basket and offering supportive yips as they went. In Faried’s ten first quarter minutes Denver scored 41 points. The eight-point Rockets’ lead turned in to a 20-point deficit. Houston never got within eight points again.
It was the second bad loss in a row for the Rockets, and the second time in a row their lack of size was exposed. Just days from the trade deadline, help could be coming, and Isaiah Hartenstein could get some run after playing some quality minutes in the fourth. Whatever happens the Rockets need size fast.
The loss dropped Houston to 29-22 on the season and sixth place in the standings. They play the surging Utah Jazz tonight at 7 pm.