By: Forrest Walker
The Houston Rockets were the two seed in the Western Conference for just about twenty-four hours exactly. Rockets pulled back into a tie with Memphis for a few minutes, who holds the tiebreaker and more importantly then beat the Sacramento Kings to take back their half-game lead on the Rockets. The Western Conference is a cruel battlefield, where a severely undermanned squad on a back to back can't afford a loss to a four seed out east. The reality of the Eastern Conference is exactly opposite: a three point victory on the back of DeMar DeRozan's career high over a badly hobbled opponent is just what the doctor ordered to get things going again. The Rockets might only have held vice-court for a single day, but sometimes a single day makes all the difference.
The showdown of the game was DeRozan vs James Harden, and today Toronto came out ahead in that matchup. Harden shot 9-22 and hung the only 30 point performance of the season on Toronto's defense with 31 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He had it going in spurts, and got to the line 12 times, but wasn't able to make it through the litany of defenders Toronto threw at him. DeMar DeRozan, on the other hand, took over in the absent Kyle Lowry's stead and had a monster 42 point and 11 rebound night, including a game-clinching two right over Harden's defense. DeRozan was in rare form, and if he plays like that every night, the Raptors are in great shape.
So, the good was Clint Capela. He dunked 4 times, scoring his first 8 NBA points (finally), grabbing 9 rebounds and swatting two shots in 19 minutes. He looked great on defense, and Nick Johnson joined him in that crusade. Johnson is as raw as they come, but his defense is tenacious and he's big enough to give players fits. The young guys came up big on a night when they absolutely had to.
The bad was the headbands, who did not come up big and in fact combined to shoot 9-30 and score 21. They put together 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals with 60 minutes between them. That is not a good line. They tried hard and they played hard, but they were tired and overworked and it was bad. Even Trevor Ariza, who was good, was still bad. He shot 5-15 (15 points), which was bad, but he notched 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block, which were good. Overall, not great from the supporting cast.
We'll get to the ugly, but first the pretty: a lovely game from Pablo Prigioni. He only took one shot, but he made it, as well as one free throw, to finish a strange but beautiful 3 point, 7 assist night. He was carving up the Raptors' defense in his 23 minutes, and he hasn't looked that confident all year. If Prigioni can be this Pablo in the playoffs, the loss of Patrick Beverley won't sting quite so much.
Oh, the team announced that Patrick Beverley will get wrist surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist, and will miss the duration of the season. So, he wasn't playing. Dwight Howard wore a suit because he isn't allowed in back to back games yet. Terrence Jones continues to recover from a partially collapsed lung, Donatas Motiejunas suddenly developed a back strain, and Kostas Papanikolaou remains sidelined by an ankle injury that refuses to go away. The ugly was a team missing half its rotation while playing on a road to road back to back.
The Rockets still almost won, and only sealed the deal with an impossible shot from DeMar DeRozan and a shockingly horrible play for a game-tying three at the very end. Ariza ended up taking and missing two desperation threes as the clock wound down and as the rest of the Rockets simply watched helplessly. This may have been a painful loss, but it could have been much worse. It was only disappointing because the Rockets went above and beyond and grabbed a lead for much of the game. If the Rockets can do this with so much leveled against them, it'll be interesting to see what they can do when things get better. They might even get back to where they were, the second seed, for just one day.