In Houston’s ongoing experiment to see how many turnovers they can rack up and still win games, the running total seems to be right around tonight’s 20. Apart from an embarrassing turn in Los Angeles, the Rockets have won four of their first five games, and have done so despite serious issues. The three pointers weren’t falling as the Rockets battled the Portland Trail Blazers, but it didn’t matter when the final buzzer sounded. With a pair of superstars going at full speed, entire bushels of turnovers and misses can mean nothing.
Those superstars made a dramatic turnaround compared to last night’s sordid affair, bouncing back to contribute 62 points between them. Harden made zero effort on defense against the Clippers, but turned around and improved that against the Blazers. He still won’t win any awards, but at least he seemed to want to contribute. He also contributed by scoring 33 points on 18 shots, a return to his efficient ways. His two blocks were nice to have, but his 8 (!!!!!) turnovers keyed a trend for the team.
Dwight Howard joined in the fun, racking up 6 turnovers himself. It was a small price to pay compared to his line, an astonishing 29 points on 13 shots to go with 15 rebounds. Howard’s post moves, while still far from refined, were good enough to punish Robin Lopez inside. He also completed a pair of magical lobs, an event of increasing regularity for Houston. As his familiarity with the team increases, Howard will only score more points off lobs and picks.
The biggest surprise of the evening was the return of Patrick Beverley, a player scheduled to take another week to return from a torn rib muscle. Beverley’s defense and hustle were sorely missed in Houston, and helped key a second unit that more than held its own. He chased down each of his 4 rebounds and had near misses on a few more. Aaron Brooks was more capable in a backup role than the preseason implied, but Beverley is on another level. His return will help Houston stick by their defensive guns for more that a quarter at a time.
Speaking of defense, Ömer Aşık chipped in as well, had a solid evening on that end as well. His defense on LaMarcus Aldridge was impressive, though Aldridge’s final line of 9-19 shooting was nothing to scoff at. The so-called Twin towers seem to be slowly figuring each other out, and are especially effective against teams with large, traditional power forwards. The Rockets defense put together a stretch of five and a half minutes to start the second half in which Portland failed to score at all. Not coincidentally, the move to a small ball signaled the return of Portland’s Lillard-fueled offense.
In the Omri Casspi watch, Omri came out and delivered another solid box score. In limited minutes he picked up 7 points on 4 shots, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s giving it his all, a quality Houston values and rewards with minutes. Casspi looks to continue getting game time, especially if he can continue to surpass Chandler Parsons on the box score (4-11 shooting, 9 pts, 6 rebounds, 2 steals), his future is bright.
Jeremy Lin continues his streak of solid performances, notching 12 points on 8 shots and letting fly with lobs from time to time. His ability to score around the cup, especially of fast breaks, has become increasingly critical. His defense may not be in the same arena as Beverley’s but he’s more important from a pick and roll and scoring perspective. Lin has quietly had a solid season thus far, with the pressure having been lifter from his shoulders.
With one exception, every game seems to be a half-step further in the path to midseason form for the Rockets. They aren’t on the same level as the Clippers at this moment, but have a great amount of room to improve. If the Rockets can start defending the perimeter and holding onto the ball, there’s no telling what they could do. But today, warts and all, the Rockets effortlessly built a double digit lead in the second half. Now they just have to learn how to get rid of the warts.