Houston Rockets 106, Brooklyn Nets 96 – Rockets Put Their Heads Down and Power Through

A depleted Houston Rockets team entered Brooklyn needing a win against a Nets team missing a star in Joe Johnson (heel), who missed his first game of the season. After the tough loss the Rockets handed the Nets in their last meeting (119-106), Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and the Nets had no intention of rolling over. Both teams scrapped for the win, and while it wasn’t the prettiest game of the season, the Rockets were able to survive going scoreless for four minutes and pick up their second win in a row.

A mere two days ago, Houston lost four rotation players in Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich. Teammates, coaches, and staff, despite wishing them the best of luck in their new situations, also have to welcome in new players and figure out how to make a new rotation work. None of the new Rockets, Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt, played in Brooklyn. It has yet to be seen how soon they will be cleared to play, much less when they’ll find minutes in the new rotation. Once again, head coach Kevin McHale’s decision was to roll out a lineup with Carlos Delfino taking Patterson’s place.

Unlike in the unlikely win over the Thunder, only one Rockets player took the floor for for that 40 minutes: James Harden. While that may bode ill for his levels of fatigue the following day in Washington D.C., every minute of Harden was crucial down the stretch. After pushing the Houston lead to 15 early in the 4th quarter, the Rockets gave up a 17-5 run, including nearly 4 minutes without a single point scored. Without Johnson, and a sore ankle from Deron Williams, the Nets relied on Brook Lopez and C.J. Watson to lead the team in scoring. When the momentum had switched in Brooklyn’s favor, James Harden broke the seal by converting a layup and one.

Harden scored 22 points on 7-14 shooting, hit 4-5 threes and grabbed 5 rebounds, and this wasn’t a very good outing for him. Harden was visibly frustrated much of the evening, driving the lane and not coming out with fouls. The referees were reluctant to call contact on the inside either way most of the evening, and this served to irritate the Rockets all night. The Nets didn’t seem much happier with the calls, and both teams had to work through frustration. This came to a head when Keith Bogans confronted Harden after a foul, earning the two players a double technical. In the end, the Rockets were able to stabilize and come out with the win.

Carlos Delfino made the most of his time in the sun, tying James Harden’s team-high in points and trying for a few more, including a spin move in the fourth that looked good but resulted in a miss. Delfino racked up 22 points and hit 6 of his 9 threes, each of which was critical to Houston’s effort. Delfino sometimes struggles from behind the arc, but he, like the entire team, was deadly accurate tonight.

The Rockets his 16-30 from deep, which is a ridiculously high 53%. Three point shooting is obviously a priority for the team, as well as a priority in practices. While that kind of shooting is nearly impossible to sustain, the team has gradually improved their three point shooting all year and look more comfortable at it as the season progresses. James Anderson and Jeremy Lin were the only Rockets to shoot less than 50% from three.

On a night when two teams combined for 29 turnovers and scrambles for rebounds and loose balls abounded, quite a few players put up mediocre outings. Lin, Anderson and Parsons combined for 24 points on 23 shots, including 8 turnovers between Lin and Parsons. Parsons was playing through a sore ankle, but he simply didn’t look as good as normal. Lin showed a high degree of confidence and aggression, and was able to hit open jumpers. Unfortunately, most of his forays inside were less successful. James Anderson played limited minutes and looks liable to lose some of those when Garcia is cleared to play and taught the system.

Two players who have spent time in the D-League this year, Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas, came out swinging and looked good against the Nets. Smith was a perfect 5-5 from the field in 16 minutes and grabbed 4 rebounds. Smith repeatedly found his way behind the Nets’ defense, using backdoor cuts as opportunities to create dunks. Motiejunas shot 4-5, including a very nice post move leading to a bucket. If he shows an ability to score and learn in the post, McHale should be all too happy to let him do so. His defense could use some work, but his willingness to run (including finishing up on a very pretty pass from Lin in transition) and ability down low should fit right in.

Asik recorded a double double again (10 and 11), which is amazingly just alright for him. His defense of Lopez was solid, but Lopez was too much for Asik to handle, scoring a game-high 27 points. Patrick Beverley rounded out the Rockets players, playing capably in his role, and shooting better then he has (8 points on 3-5 shooting, 4 of which were three point attempts).

The Rockets may have lost some defense for the time being, but given that the team defense was already nonexistent, the main effect seems to be longer minutes for the starters. The sky hasn’t fallen on this young team trying to make the playoffs while trading away a quarter of its rotation, and that’s the most important thing at this second. Things have been tough, but they’ve been able to be tough right back.

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Houston Rockets @ Brooklyn Nets on 2/22/2013