Can you imagine the Rockets losing to the Sixers in the early season? There’s no way the tankiest team to ever tank should ever beat a pair of superstars on a team that’s trying to contend. Well, if we pretend like such a thing could happen it might look a lot like tonight for much of the game. The Rockets seemed to be letting this team hang around just a little too long, but in the end talent won out. Even when they look bad, these Rockets are winning by double digits, something that’s at the worst not a bad sign.
The best sign was probably the pile of stats that James Harden shoved into the box score. He’s been a total stat hoarder lately, and this last line clocks in at 35 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal, a block and 4 turnovers. his 7-18 shooting was poor, but as always his 18 free throw attempts counteracted that. One day he’ll have a good shooting night or the team will find ways to keep him open more, and the sparks will really fly. For now, we’ll have to settle for watching him put up unbelievable numbers while also playing vastly improved defense. He’s closing out and losing his man less. Even if his defense isn’t particularly good, it’s so much better and so much less harmful to the team than last year that it’s hard to believe.
The other superstar showed flashes, too. Dwight Howard looked young and spry in fits and starts, though he had a hard time with Nerlens Noel. Whether this was due to his bruised thigh, poor entry passes, a lack of gumption or another factor is up to debate. The result, however, was another game where Dwight looked like he could have played twice as well and still came out with a double double. 11 points anf 14 rebounds is fine, but it would be much nicer to see him dominate his matchup like Harden has been dominating his. Perhaps tomorrow’s tilt against Bosh and the Heat will awaken the beast in Howard.
The beast in Terrence Jones went back to sleep, however, as Jones struggled his way to a 6 point night on 11 shots. Jones has shown the potential, but now he has to build consistency. He should take lessons from Trevor Ariza, who wins the Trevor Ariza award for being consistently better than expected (est. 2013). He went 6-9 from downtown and is the perfect escape hatch for Harden. This signing looks better day by day, and Harden’s numbers have definitely been improved by having Ariza on the floor. At his contract, Ariza is an absolute steal.
Donatas Motiejunas, however, wins the Trevor Ariza award for not showing up when needed (est. 2009). Motiejunas seems to have somehow regressed over the summer, and really has yet to do much of anything. If he wants to crack the wild and wooly bigs rotation in Houston, he has to show something, soon. Canaan, however, will have no trouble cracking the thin, watery guard rotation. With Beverley still nursing a strained hamstring, Isaiah Canaan has started the last two games and looked adequate at it. He can hit spot up threes, he can pass the ball well enough not to hit a ref, and he’s not a complete implosion on defense. Good enough! Hopefully he will have some big games here and there, as having a spark off the bench at the point is something the Rockets need badly.
Of course, what they need the most is probably a lesson in post entry passes, something that they still have yet to get the hang of, somehow. Barring that, though, four double digit wins to start the season is acceptable. The Sixers, once again, looked like they didn’t realize they’re supposed to be losing and jumped all over Houston whenever the Rockets would let up. This time, however, the Rockets clamped down at the end and showed off their new defensive chops. The Rockets haven’t been truly tested yet, but the results so far have been a pass on the pass/fail scale. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.