The Minnesota Timberwolves loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday night dropped them to 12-43, dead-last in the West. They are not a very good team. And as such, the Rockets’ win, playing at home, shouldn’t be much to write home about.
Having said that, it felt like last night was the best punch the Wolves could muster; and the Rockets took it in stride. Birthday boy Andrew Wiggins scored 30 (Can’t we just call him Ender already? He’s as advertised), former Rocket Kevin Martin got his usual 21, and Ricky Rubio flirted with a triple-double. In fact, all five Wolves starters scored in double digits. But it just wasn’t enough.
Credit Minnesota for hanging tough, but the game never really felt in danger for the Rockets. James Harden was what he has been all season: MVP-worthy. He had his second triple-double of the season (more on that in a bit), with 31 points, 11 boards, 10 dimes and 4(!) blocks. He started slow, missing all six shots he took in the first quarter, but was 7-14 (5-8 on 3-pt) for the rest of the game. He hit killer threes at the end of the second and third quarters, and the latter, which nearly re-tore Rubio’s ACL, was the NBA’s play of the night.
The rest of the Rockets were no slouches either. Every starter except Jason Terry, who was filling in for a sick Patrick Beverley, scored in double-digits (JET had 9). Josh Smith shot too much from the outside, but had 17 points off the bench and filled the stat sheet before fouling out. Corey Brewer’s 11 points off the pine outscored Minny’s bench (10 pts) all by himself. D-Mo did what he could defensively against massive General Zod Nikola Pekovich, and managed 12 points, while Trevor Ariza was cold from the outside (2-8) but made up for it with his usual defense (4 steals) and by crashing the boards (8 total).
But the real story, other than Harden, was Terrence Jones. In his first start since November, Jones was all over the place to the tune of 15 pts, 15 rebs, a steal and two blocks. The Wolves could do nothing to keep him off of the glass (9 offensive) and his shot chart is truly impressive.
Someone show that puppy to Josh Smith! Jones never settled and attacked the rim every chance he got.
The Rockets really struggle with long rebounders, especially without Dwight Howard (see: Chandler, Tyson; Jordan, DeAndre). But they have to lead the league in true power forwards who can take the ball off the glass and run a successful fast break. Jones (and Smith) ran several such plays Monday night. T.J. seems to be the safer ball-handler, and Smoove the much more creative passer.
But back to James Hardens’ triple-double. At a time when Russell Westbrook has really stepped up for the under-manned OKC Thunder, Harden needed a night like this to stay at the forefront of the MVP race. ESPN Stats and Info dug up some very interesting bits on Harden’s big night:
From Elias: It was a high-scoring, poor-shooting triple-double for James Harden. Harden finished with 30 points, but shot only 35% from the field. The last player to * Have a triple-double * Score at least 30 points * and shoot 35% or worse from the field in the same game was Pete Maravich for the Jazz against the Lakers on March 5, 1975. Hakeem Olajuwon and Harden are the only players to score 30 points in a triple-double in Rockets franchise history. Hakeem did it 5 times. Quick Hitters on Harden’s big game * Had 2 career triple-doubles entering this season (all with Rockets) * 6th player with multiple triple-doubles this season * 1st Rockets player with multiple triple-doubles in a single season since Steve Francis in 2001-02 * Joins Kobe Bryant as only players with a 30-point triple-double this season * NBA-leading 25th 30-point game this season * Rockets are 21-4 when Harden scores 30 points this season; 9-2 when he has 10 assists
While it’s true Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge have also missed significant time due to injury, the fact that Harden has not only kept the Rockets in the playoff hunt without Dwight Howard (and Chandler Parsons, for that matter), but that they currently sit in third place has got to be the storyline of the Western Conference so far, Warriors be damned. The Rockets continue to sit squarely on James Harden’s shoulders, and 56 games into the season, he’s managed the weight spectacularly.
Side Notes From The Next TV Over: Rudy Gobert is AWESOME. We finally get to see what Shawn Bradley would have looked like if he wasn’t flat-footed dunk-bait. How often in his career has Tim Duncan had a HOOK SHOT blocked? And he can run the floor? Here’s hoping Dante Exum isn’t really the next Kobe (he’s not), because the Jazz have something special in Gobert.
Also, presented without comment: Isaiah Canaan.