By: Forrest Walker
The Houston Rockets pulled out all the stops against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a close shave with a rough team. They only needed to pull out those stops because they kept pushing stops back in with an endless barrage of turnovers, but in the end they did enough. It wasn't a pretty win, and it was closer than it should have been, but it wasn't really as close as it looked, and it counts all the same. The Rockets climb a game above .500 yet again and solidify their playoff aspirations.
The Wolves, also known more delightfully as the T'wolves, have a very nice core going. Karl-Anthony Towns had 32 points and is going to deserve every bit of that Rookie of the Year trophy. Andrew Wiggins is a very good rotation player at absolute worst, Zach LaVine is rounding into a nice 2-guard, and Ricky Rubio doesn't need to prove himself any more. They aren't good today, but like the Detroit Pistons, they're basically a lock to be good soon, and for a long time (as long as they can get a real coach). The future in Minnesota is as bright as the winters are cold.
Unfortunately for them, that's later, and games are played now. The Rockets may not be the powerhouse they could have or should have been, but they're certainly good enough to push through a very young T'wolves team. The Rockets got out to a number of 10-point leads, but gave the Wolves enough turnovers to stay in the game. When they weren't throwing the ball away, the Rockets looked competent, even sharp at times. Unfortunately for him, a lot of that competence came while Dwight Howard sat on the bench.
He wasn't the only player on the bench, however. Terrence Jones and Josh Smith continued to warm the pine despite being active. Rockets commentariat has always been higher on Donatas Motiejunas than Terrence Jones, but being right has never been so bad. Motiejunas had a very nice 17 and 9 tonight, but it would be good if Jones was a viable NBA player again. Josh Smith, despite being a lot of fun, has been thoroughly outclassed by newcomer Michael Beasley, aka "New Josh." For now, Beasley is shooting well (8-14 for 17 points) and successful on the glass (6 rebounds) but this honeymoon is likely to end before long. They always do, so enjoy SuperCool Beas while it lasts.
The star, of course, was Patrick Beverley. Okay, the star was still actually James Harden, but Beverley had his best game of the season. He shot 5-9 from deep, scored 18 points and amassed an astonishing 10 assists plus 5 rebounds. He was everywhere, and his intensity keyed the Rockets in. I still don't know how good Beverley is, but he plays so hard that it barely matters. His fire sometimes burns the Rockets, but more often than not, that intensity is exactly what Houston needs but is sorely lacking. Tonight was one of those precious nights.
Harden, of course, had a field day with a green defense. The Wolves give up plenty of points on a good day, and James made sure this wasn't a good day. He ran it up, ending the night with 29 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and a hilarious 9 turnovers. That's correct. Harden was on the wrong end of 9 of Houston's 17 turnovers. He's due to have some turnovers when he handles the ball so much, but 9 is ludicrous. He was key in putting the Wolves away late, but also worked together with his teammates to make sure they stayed in it.
In a certain sense, that's amazing teamwork.
In another, very real sense, the Rockets have to play the Atlanta Hawks tomorrow in Atlanta and James Harden just played 38 minutes. Those players who manned the seats this game may end up getting some burn if things get ugly in Atlanta. The Rockets continue to show that they can put the defensive clamps on teams when push comes to shove, but seem to have little desire to prevent the shoves. Perhaps if they can start locking in defensively earlier in games, the Hawks will have a hard time. We'll see if they can be good enough tomorrow, too.