James Harden finished with 18 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds, but shot just 6-18 and turned the ball over six times. His biggest contribution: finding Trevor Ariza on the three-point line. Ariza shot 4-7 from deep and finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
Holy cow does Ariza fit snugly into the Rockets lineup. I don't think he's taken a contested three-pointer in two games, yet he's taken a staggering 15 so far. He's consistently open and James Harden has done a terrific job of finding him. The Rockets' first option on a fast break is rapidly becoming "find Trevor Ariza" and he has been flat out automatic. He looks worth every penny of his $8 million-per-year contract.
Harden's passing looks excellent. It's not just that he had double-digit assists in the game, it's how he's getting those assists: in the fast break and off quick decisions in the offense. When he's distributing, the Rockets offense positively hums. This is even more important considering he's the only above-average distributor on the Rockets. This might be a problem, but it wasn't tonight.
This is two straight games that Dwight Howard has gotten his fourth foul in the third quarter. More worrisome is the fact that he's not accumulating these fouls against the Marc Gasols and Andrew Boguts of the league, he's doing it against the Lakers and Jazz. He's clearly a step slow on defense right now. He had a strong offensive game, however, despite 6 turnovers: he finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds on 10-16 shooting and 2 blocks before fouling out with a minute and a half left in the game.
Derrick Favors finished with four blocks and 16 points, and, at least in the second half, he looked the part of the most dominant defensive big man on the floor. He even blocked Dwight Howard on a reverse layup, which, if you think about it, is nearly impossible.
Isaiah Canaan actually got some burn before the fourth quarter in this game, and woof was he bad. He was directing the offense in the second half when the Jazz closed the gap to three points. He was the only player on the Rockets who finished with a negative plus/minus, and he finished at -12. Jason Terry's rotation spot -- 8 points, 2/3 shooting from deep, no other stats -- is looking more and more assured. Terry played 21 minutes.
I can't wait to see the Rockets play a contender this year. They proved they can beat two of the worst teams in the league, and beat them comfortably. The Rockets are a good team, there's no denying that. But they're a team with a lot of new parts and not a lot of depth.
They play next on Saturday night against another woeful opponent, the Boston Celtics, before playing the woefulest of woeful opponents, the Sixers, on Nov. 3. Their first real challenge will be against the Miami Heat on Nov. 4. It's a nice four-game warmup to start the season, but I can't help to think we're reading too much into these performances. I also can't help reading too much into these performances.