The Sacramento Kings tried their best, and can definitely be a dangerous team of the future. Instead of trying to engage in a 3-point shootout, the Kings attempted to use their size and athleticism at the start to get into the paint. Nemanja Bjelica and Marvin Bagley made things difficult in the first by getting into the paint and rebounding, and Buddy Hield showed that Houston cannot ever rotate off of him like the Rockets did once or twice.
But the Houston Rockets are still chasing the second seed, while the Kings are out of the playoffs. And the talent disparity became too much over time as the Rockets had another great shooting night.
If anything can sum up this game, take a look at ESPN’s shot chart and note the visual difference. Sacramento took 14 mid-range shots, with five of them coming from Willie Cauley-Stein who finished 1-7 from the field with two points. The Rockets took three mid-range shots, and also took 61 three-pointers compared to 23 for the Kings.
Sometimes, you watch some of those three-pointers and wonder whether the Rockets could consider getting closer, or at least not take 30-feet shots with more than 12 seconds on the shot clock. But while the Rockets started off cold in the first, they finally started hitting in the second quarter where they steadily pulled away. Harden made seven, Eric Gordon made five, and Danuel House (who we have seen struggle recently) made four.
Houston made 26 three-pointers to tie the NBA record for made threes, and could have set the record had anyone been able to hit in the last five to six minutes of garbage time. And the fact that fans were once pinning their hopes on Gary Clark, who went 0-3 from three in garbage time and was not close on any of his shots, is a reminder of how desperate this team looked at the beginning.
There was more to Houston’s victory than a hot shooting night. The Rockets also set the tone early by getting into the paint, whether it was Harden driving past defenders or passing to House for this absolutely stupid dunk. Harden himself had 36 points in just 29 minutes, along with 10 assists against 2 turnovers. Chris Paul was the one rotation player who had an off shooting night, but was still a game changer with his passing and 12 assists.
When the Rockets can get to the rim at will and go bonkers from three, the Warriors and the Bucks are the only team which have a prayer of beating them. The Sacramento Kings are not the Warriors or Bucks. Maybe they will be, but the Rockets are on a roll and took care of business like they were supposed to tonight.
What is Next
The Rockets will take on the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at 9:30 CST in a game with major playoff implications. The Rockets will be on the second night of a back to back while the Clippers last played on Sunday, which would indicate “schedule loss.” But no Rocket played more than 30 minutes against the Kings.
Look to see how key match ups perform such as Chris Paul vs. Patrick Beverly and the two teams’ benches. A win will be nice, especially as the second seed is even closer to grasp thanks to Denver’s loss against Golden State. But how Houston and Los Angeles match up is crucial as the Clippers appear to be Houston’s likely first-round opponent.