The Houston Rockets had a rough start to their season. They gave up ugly losses to the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Philadelphia 76ers. The Dwight Howard and Ömer Aşık tandem was a disaster. James Harden’s foot bothered him for weeks, and the offense never quite came together, to say nothing of the defense. High hopes based on the level of talent and the pre-season performance gave way to tempered expectations and hundreds of articles full of trepidation. Then the Brooklyn Nets came into town and put everything into perspective.
No team has played as far under expectations as the Brooklyn Nets. The most notable story around the team has been a beverage-based ploy for a stoppage in play by head coach Jason Kidd. They went into the year looking like potential contenders, and now look like little more than chum for the sharks in the Western Conference. Perhaps things will turn around then Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett return, but so far nobody has returned to form on a team full of aging veterans. The Rockets aren’t quite up to their lofty goals, but in their obliteration of the Nets they showed that their struggle does have respites.
Before all else, rest assured that the Rockets nearly hit their turnover quota. They may have missed the twenty turnover mark, but only by a few. With 16 on the night, they continued to prove, in some bizarre social experiment, that they can win by double digits despite huge numbers of giveaways. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Rockets hit an eye-popping 59.4% from the three point line. It also didn’t hurt that the Nets didn’t seem interested in guarding the three point line. Or doing much anything else.
The hero of the game was Chandler Parsons, who put up a line that’s beyond fantasy. He racked up 21 points, shot a perfect 7-7 from the field, and only one was a two-pointer. He tacked on 6 rebounds and 3 assists to go with a single turnover in a night that saw him live up to his potential as Houston’s al-around scorer and defensive “glue guy.” Parsons and company also defended Paul Pierce into the ground, allowing only 2 points on 6 shots, something which would have been very impressive in previous years.
Aaron Brooks, due to Jeremy Lin’s knee injury, ended up playing the most minutes of any Rocket on the evening, a mere 28. He continued to summon the power of 2009 Aaron Brooks, shooting 5-8 and scoring14 points to go with an impressive 7 assists. Brooks is proving to be a fantastic insurance policy, as he’s still willing to be infinitely aggressive off the bench. Lin might miss two weeks, but Brooks is happy to go a little Linsane any day of the week.
The bench also produced two more showcase games from Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia, who by this point have played themselves into key rotation minutes. Casspi in particular was a pile of dynamite, hitting all 3 of his threes and going 6-9 overall for 16 points. his 4 rebounds weren’t pretty, but his 5 boards and 3 dimes certainly were. Garcia shot 5-7 from downtown (and missed two twos) for 15 points and racked up 5 assists. The entire team logged a completely unthinkable 31 assists on 39 made field goals, largely due to Brooklyn’s anemic pick and roll defense.
Terrence Jones looked good, but that barely registers at this point. He played cleanup and backdoor cutter, racking up 11 points on 8 shots due in large part to 7 rebounds. Dwight Howard only had only 17 minutes, but he made them count, shooting 50% overall, including a double-clutch layup. When Dwight Howard is scoring double-clutch layups, the season isn’t going well. James Harden somehow had a quietly powerful night, hitting only 1-4 from the field, but scoring 9 points and dishing out 7 dimes. He looked to pass more than shoot, and it destroyed the Nets all night.
There’s little more to say about a game in which the Rockets rounded a 30 point margin before the coaches emptied the benches. The outcome wasn’t in question for the last 36 minutes of the game, a condition the Rockets could only have dreamed of. With a road game against the vicious San Antonio Spurs, a team which has been eviscerating the rest of the league. To have a chance on a back to back, the Rockets needed as many advantages as possible, and they got the rest they wanted for the starters. Tomorrow may be a brutal struggle, but for today, it didn’t have to be.