K.J. McDaniels got to say hello to his former team in the best way possible: solid play in a (mostly) solid win. The Houston Rockets haven’t given McDaniels a lot of chance to prove himself in this dismal season. Veterans have been the order of the day, and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been desperately trying to carve out wins. Against the Philadelphia 76ers, however, K.J. was given the chance to get some burn, and he burned the Sixers in turn. The Rockets now sit a full two and a half games above the 9th seed Utah Jazz, likely to make the playoffs and get obliterated in the first round.

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in game coverage

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As Bill Worrell brought up multiple times during the broadcast, the Toronto Raptors have had the best offense in the league over the past month. Not the Warriors. Not the Spurs. The Raptors’ duo of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan, combined with a surprising level of ball movement from coach Dwane Casey, have been the best offense in the league.

Houston Rockets fans had every reason to expect that such an offense would eviscerate the team’s shoddy and patchwork defense. For about two and a half quarters, that happened. First it was Luis Scola (yes. THAT Scola, at 35 years old), then Lowry, and then DeRozan. Each seemed to take their turn with their own scoring outburst which threatened to finish the Rockets off.

But while Houston would have buckled  almost any other night, tonight was different. The Rockets started making threes after going roughly 0 for 1000 over their last two games. James Harden woke up and had 40 points on 20 shots, 14 assists, and just one turnover. Corey Brewer had his best game of the season. The result was that Houston rallied from an 18-point deficit to win in Toronto for the first time since 2007.

But the Rockets made the comeback because for one of the few times this season, this team actually played defense and relied on basic fundamentals and rotations. Just like the Spurs on Christmas Day, the Rockets shut down one of the top offenses in the league, played hard, and secured a terrific comeback.

And a lot of that defensive improvement was thanks to Clint Capela.

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in game coverage

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The Houston Rockets sure took their time in grabbing this win. For some reason they once again waited to lock down on defense, they waited to win the harder game of a back to back, and I waited a long time to watch the game. It was a day of waiting, and being rewarded with something that wasn’t terrible. Maybe the Rockets can use this game as a building block. Maybe on the 20th try that will finally come true. Maybe now that we’ve waited long enough it will finally happen.

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in game coverage

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  • I’ve been writing this year that I wouldn’t trade James Harden.  Richard Li and others, however, have made solid arguments in support of the counter position.  And contrary to the sentiments held by many who share my stance on this matter, I do not think the question itself is without merit.  There’s a very real case to be made as to why the Rockets would be better off trading Harden.  But to add to my supporting arguments, I don’t think Harden is any ordinary superstar.  We all agree he’s a unique offensive talent.  But I almost think that in light of the spotlight upon his deficiencies, this year, he’s become undervalued in a way.  Oh, I still maintain that Harden is the primary cause of Houston’s downfall this year: he’s a fundamentally selfish and lazy player, and a terrible leader.  But despite that, with almost every other player on the roster performing below or far below career norms, the Rockets are highly likely to make the playoffs.  Think about that for a second, because in our disappointment, we take that point for granted.  At the very least, a team built around James Harden is a lock to make the playoffs.  That is not insignificant.  Look at other players that people consider marquee talents around the league.  DeMarcus Cousins is spoken of as similarly impactful, but he’s only anchored god-awful teams and will again not make the playoffs.  Anthony Davis, prematurely crowned by some (including myself) as the league’s best player, won’t be making the postseason this year; his team has suffered all sorts of injuries, yes, but were the Rockets any healthier last year when they placed second, led by Harden in a historically brutal West?  What about Kobe throughout the years when not paired with an All-NBA frontcourt running mate.  (Okay, different era).  The point is, while featuring James Harden may cap your team’s ceiling, it also sets a safeguard on your team’s floor.  You will not be bad and have a chance to be very good.  And as I’ve argued, second best is a good goal to have, at this point.  It would be foolish to deconstruct in hopes of chasing a team in the midst of the greatest two-year run in NBA history.

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in musings

This was not a fun game to watch.

If I wanted to be pessimistic ( and I certainly have been this season), this was also not a win to be proud of. James Harden had to score 39 points and this team had to rally in the final five minutes to beat a New Orleans team which is only slightly more disappointing than the Houston Rockets. And on top of that, Houston caught a lucky break with injuries. Dante Cunningham, who just torched all of Houston’s power forwards with a steady stream of jump shots and corner 3’s, left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury.

But a win is a win, and there were some positive signs. At the end of the game, the Rockets actually buckled down on defense, had James Harden do his thing, and perhaps most miraculously of all, hit a three-pointer. A bunch of key plays down the stretch made up for terrible shooting and ball handling.

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in game coverage

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