The Houston Rockets might have been sunk if the cavalry hadn’t arrived. Dwight Howard was still out with a rolled ankle, James Harden took a nasty bump to the knee, and the Dallas Mavericks were nipping at Houston’s heels all night long. The extra ounce that it took for Houston to get over the top on the Mavs came from the bench, and most notably, it came from a couple of unlikely sources. Josh Smith had easily his best game as a Rocket, and the long-missed Terrence Jones came back with a head of steam at the perfect moment.
Jones may have come off the bench, but he played 21 minutes to (temporary) starter Joey Dorsey’s 13. With another fairly reliable big man in the rotation, the load on Dwight Howard is lessened significantly, and with the Celtics next on the docket, Howard doesn’t need to hurry his return to action, especially with reports that his injury may be worse than expected. Whether Jones or current starter Donatas Motiejunas comes off the bench, tonight was a sign that the Rockets will have a deeper rotation in the frontcourt, as either of those players should feast on most bench units. 10 points on 4-8 shooting, 5 rebounds, an assists and 2 blocks is a fantastic line for his first game back, and once he’s shaken some more of the rust off, Jones’ help will be mission critical to this Rockets team.
Josh Smith was the captain of the “bands of brothers” tonight, hitting a ludicrous 4-5 from three point range, a feat which likely won’t happen again any time soon. He was 7-13 overall, and those 18 points were not only a team high, but also stemmed from open looks and assists. He was in the right place at the right time more often than not, and so far he seems to be buying into the Rockets’ offense and his place in it. As an added bonus, he went ahead and notched 6 boards, 2 assists, a steal and 3 blocks in 28 minutes. He won’t have games this good regularly, but between himself, Corey Brewer and Terrence Jones (and Jason Terry, if you’re being technical), the Rockets’ bench is likely to see a good line off the bench on most nights, something which is an increasingly important luxury as the season wears on.
In fact, the Mavs were worn out from a disappointing loss to the Memphis Grizzlies the previous evening, and didn’t have the luxury of the tight 9-man rotation the Rockets used. Fatigue showed as the game wore on and the fast pace the Rockets were running extracted its toll on the Mavs. Dirk was only 4-11, and the wings, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis, were keeping the entire team afloat. Parsons was a blistering 5-8 from three, and Monta’s 33 points (!) came on 14-23 shooting (!!). The Rockets may have to figure out how to beat the Mavs when they haven’t played the day before, but not until the playoffs at earliest. Somehow, all four games these teams play each other feature a fatigued Dallas.
What, then, of Houston’s hero, Harden? His night wasn’t flashy, but it was effective. In his continued expansion of his skillset, Harden leaned more toward playmaking than scoring, picking up 8 gorgeous assists while only shooting 14 times. He had 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals to fill out the box, a line which isn’t as gaudy as some he’s had recently, but was just what was needed against a Dallas team not sufficiently prepared to chase the ball. There was a brief scare when Harden knocked knees with Monta Ellis, but he played the rest of the game, though his knee did seem to bother him a bit. There’s been no news on this potential injury so far, and if Houston is lucky, that will stay the case.
The rest of the starters were in good enough mode, with Trevor Ariza leading the group with 13 points on 10 shots and 3-6 behind the arc. Motiejunas’ 16 points on 16 shots and 5 boards weren’t amazing, but he was continues to be able to operate in the post, and that was good enough tonight. Patrick Beverley went 0-6 from three, and took 9 shots to get 6 points. His defense remained intense, but his offense is likely to be hot and cold all season long. Joey Dorsey, bless his heart, filled in for Dwight as best as he could against Tyson Chandler. Yes, let’s leave it at that.
This game was another nailbiter, as all games against the Mavs seem destined to be. The starters were largely lackluster, but Smith and Jones came alive in a pairing of exciting play and generic names. If Dwight can get healthy any time soon, this Rockets team has a real shot at picking p the pace and rolling on a schedule that’s only going to soften in coming months. In the meantime, the basketball Jones is back, and he’s leading the cavalry.