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Houston Rockets 100, Utah jazz 93 – Hot Starts are Helpful

The Houston Rockets flipped the script of their last few games, deciding to come out strong and surge to an early lead. Houston pushed the deficit to 22 points in the second quarter and held it steady through most of the game. Racking up a sizable lead turned out to be a solid strategy for the Rockets, as it allowed them to weather a storm of Jazz scoring in the fourth quarter. It may not have ended as the blowout the Rockets were aiming for, but Houston came away with a much needed win on the back of a solid outing from their starting backcourt.

Don’t look now, but Jeremy Lin’s been going just a little bit Linsane recently. He’s put together three straight games with 21 points or more, and he’s looking increasingly aggressive. He’s finding open lanes and drawing double teams, and now he’s punishing the opposition for it. Late in the game he kicked the ball out of a double team on the perimeter, finding a streaking Chandler Parsons. Even better, this dunk helped stop a nasty run that put the Jazz back in the game. Lin’s 24 points came on excellent 9-13 shooting. His 6 assists were nice, too, and more than made up for only 2 turnovers. And he did this all in only 30 minutes of play. This is the trend from him Houston’s been hoping for all season, and this is a good time to find it.

James Harden, of course, did more than his fair share. He had another one of his peculiar low-percentage nights, shooting only 5-14. While that might look bad, it resulted in 29 points due to his amazing 18 free throws, of which he missed only 1. Harden’s penchant to press the issue and get to the rack results in a pile of free throws for his team, but also leads to awkward misses and ugly turnovers. It’s a work in progress, but it’s also very successful. He capped it off with 3 assists, 2 steals, a block and 3 turnovers, which is a decent amount of turnovers for him.

Today, the rest of the team showed up, too. Chandler Parsons couldn’t hit a 3-points (0-4), but he managed 10 points on 50% shooting anyway. His 8 rebounds and 3 assists fit nicely into his stat line, giving him a quiet but helpful evening (apart from a fairly nice dunk). Donatas Motiejunas continues to look inconsistent, but at least he hit a three. He went 2-8 overall, scoring only 5 points, and pulling down a mediocre 5 boards, but he looked like he’s beginning to find his role to some degree. His individual defense isn’t bad, and in fact he played some good defense one on one against Millsap. Unfortunately, his help and team defense leaves room for improvement. He”ll continue to get a pass for being a rookie as long as he continues to at least marginally contribute.

Omer Asik went to work and grabbed a very Omer Asik stat line. 9 points, 12 rebounds and a block. There’s no player on the Rockets more consistent than Omer Asik. He plays the defense he has to, and tonight he had a very capable Al Jefferson to contend with. While Jefferson ended up 9-19, it could have been much worse without Asik’s capable post defense. The highlight of Asik’s night was a spinning move to escape his man under the basket, leading to a bizarre ballet-like reverse layup and-one. Asik points come in all sorts of packages.

The bench wasn’t bad, and in fact they were only present for about half of the near-disastrous late run by the Jazz. Carlos Delfino found his stroke, hitting 4-8 shots (but only 1-5 threes). He was working well coming off screens, and also hit a couple contested shots which were only good because he hit them. Beverly also finally started scoring again, including some fairly daring drives. He’s never lacked for bravado on offense, and 7 point, 3-6 line on the night isn’t a bad result. He’s also trying to fill Douglas’ shoes on defense, and definitely plays with energy on that end. He gets hit with fouls for it at times, but as a role player off the bench, that’s usually not a problem.

Greg Smith and Thomas Robinson each had a nice dunk on the evening, including a very pretty slam on the fast break for Robinson.  Other than that, their stat lines were very forgettable, Smigh going 1-2 (3 points) from the field with 3 boards, Robinson hitting 2-7 (4 points) with 6 rebounds.

In what had somehow become the most important game of the season so far, the Rockets were able to give themselves the cushion they needed to keep the Jazz and the Lakers in the rear view mirror. With the Golden State Warriors now only a game ahead of Houston, the Rockets have to keep winning the games they’re favored in. If the Rockets can begin to recapture that February groove and start blowing teams out, now would be a great time.

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