By: Forrest Walker
One hundred forty five. Depending on the context, that can be a lot of different sizes. 145 pennies? Not very impressive. 145 dollars? That's getting somewhere. 145 yachts? Yikes, that's a lot of opulence! Somewhere in the middle is the scale of NBA points. That's about 40% more than the average NBA score. That's a score of 115 at the end of the third quarter. That's a score that nobody, no other team has managed in a game this year. It's no coincidence that it happened against the "defense" of the remains of the Los Angeles Lakers, but a point is a point, even if Robert Sacre is on the floor.
On a grander scale, something awesome and tragic all at once took place during the game, and it actually had nothing to do with the Rockets. Steve Nash tallied his 10,335th assists in his career, passing up Mark Jackson for 3rd all time in total assists. That's a major milestone, and he came out of the game immediately after. That was clearly what the team was gunning for, and they got it. In a season like the Lakers are having, where nothing goes anywhere near right, hanging onto bigger picture moments like that becomes a necessity. This season will pass to dust soon enough, but Steve Nash's historic career is something people will not only remember but also want to remember. Kudos, Nash, and kudos Lakers for helping him do it. Now we just have to hope his career isn't over, because a league without Steve Nash is less magical by far.
So what did the Rockets do? They scored. They scored a lot. Terrence Jones and James Harden shared the game high of 33. 33 is also Robert Covington's jersey number, but unfortunately for the Rockets he wasn't around to join in the twelve minutes of garbage time that comprised the fourth quarter. (Fortunately for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, however, he was around to help them win their first playoff game of the season.) His fellow rookie Isaiah Canaan was in Los Angeles, though, and he was happy to shoot. The cannon fired 8 times, hitting on 6 of them and racking up 15 points. Games like that are what rookies need to get into the swing of things and learn their teammates' tendencies. Canaan may not be a playoff-worthy rotation option this season, but he's showing a lot of promise and looks like another second round steal in the long term.
What didn't the Rockets do? Well... they didn't really defend very much. That big 40 point quarter from the Lakers in the fourth made Houston's defense look terrible, and indeed the defense was terrible in that quarter. It wasn't amazing before that, but at least in frames one through three featured Ömer Aşık at the rim. He was a holy terror against the Lakers, dunking with aplomb for 10 points, grabbing 15 boards and getting a couple blocks in only 24 minutes. The other 24 minutes of the game? Those minutes featured Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas at the five, and it wasn't exactly lockdown defense in the paint. Motiejunas has improved his defense lately, especially his man defense, but his rim protection leaves quite a bit to be desired. The good news that once Dwight Howard is playing again in the playoffs, that won't matter any more.
A lot of things from this game won't matter when the playoffs come around. The Rockets got out to a big lead in the second half after playing around in the first half and letting the Lakers hang around. Even after building a 20+ point lead in their insane 49 point third quarter, the Rockets took their foot off the gas and the Lakers surged back a bit, prompting timeouts from head coach Kevin McHale. Harden was seeing how deep he could hit a three and Terrence Jones was trying to play around and get a triple double. Harden sat the entire fourth and Jones had to come out of the game with an injury. It appears that Jones only suffered a calf cramp, something far preferable to the myriad season-ending maladies that flashed though everyone's heads.
The Rockets played another game against a sub-.500 team and picked up another victory. That streak should be challenged tomorrow in Denver, as the Nuggets seek to get revenge for their thrilling overtime loss in Houston. On the plus side, the Rockets got plenty of rest, Terrence Jones' 33 minutes leading the team. On the other hand, this is a team that sent Houston to overtime a few days ago. Today's game went about as well as possible, and at this juncture could the Rockets ask for anything more? Do they even want anything more? The one thing everyone wants, 145 point games aside, is some playoff basketball already. The NBA playoffs start in 11 days.