The Houston Rockets are now leading the best division in basketball.
That's what they earned in Memphis with a 117-111 overtime win behind yet another MVP performance by James Harden. They Rockets are now 21-7, a half-game up on the 21-8 Grizzlies and two games up on the Mavericks in the Southwest.
Harden was unreal. Against a championship-caliber opponent and terrific defenders in Tony Allen and Courtney Lee, he finished with 32 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 HUGE blocks. He blocked a Tony Allen layup attempt in overtime that would have tied the game with less than a minute left. He also blocked a three-point attempt earlier in the night.
This game gave us a preview of how McHale will use his new depth. Kostas Papanikolaou, Isaiah Canaan and Nick Johnson did not see the floor. Josh Smith played all of overtime and finished with almost 32 minutes. Corey Brewer played 22 minutes and Jason Terry played 18.
The bench in the first half, with the new additions, looked awful allowing the Grizzlies to build a 14-point lead at one point. In the second half, it was a different story. Josh Smith took a few bad shots and airballed a three, but he was aggressive, didn't settle and played hard. That's one of the things not on any scouting report we saw: he's a gamer. He fought for every rebound and finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
Dwight Howard was absolutely invisible tonight on offense -- he scored just 6 points, four of which were pressure free throws in overtime -- but was a big factor on defense, altering shots and cleaning the glass when he wasn't in foul trouble. Motiejunas played 30 minutes but nothing down the stretch, but he was also ineffective, scoring just four points and never engaging in the game.
The Grizzlies were playing without Zach Randolph, but they still gave the Rockets a tough fight. They are never fazed and never wavered, even when the Rockets went up nine points in the fourth quarter. Dwight's frequent disappearing acts against them are a growing concern, and they are not a team I want to face in the postseason.
All that said, the Rockets are now 2-1 against them. The new pieces play hard, which is tougher than you think when you're unfamiliar with your surroundings. This is no longer a team made up of passive, finesse players. Harden is no longer deferring, and Smith, Beverley and Ariza are lunchpail guys at heart.
It's far too early to make any assumptions or lineup analyses with the new toys on the roster. But the toys shined brightly Friday night, as does the future for the 2014-2015 Houston Rockets.