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Defense dooms Rockets in Denver

The Rockets were short-handed inside, and the Nuggets took advantage to sweep the season series from Houston 3-0.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets' short-handed front court was no match for the Denver Nuggets, as the Rockets gave up 62 points in the paint and were out rebounded 52-26 on their way to a 114-108 loss on Monday night.

With Clint Capela already out due to food poisoning, the Rockets struggled through another injury to Terrence Jones and foul trouble to Donatas Motiejunas and were forced to go small for most of the game, and they just couldn't hold it down inside.

The troubles began right away, as the Rockets fell down big in the first quarter despite a boost from a sharp-looking D-Mo. Motiejunas drained a triple and fed Dwight Howard on a sweet alley-oop, but Dwight soon went to the bench for rest, and the Nuggets took immediate advantage.

Denver went on a 22-6 run to close out the first quarter in which they also scored 22 points in the paint on their way to 36-22 lead. The Rockets allowed Denver to shoot 68.2 percent in the quarter, and they also turned the ball over 6 times and showed how much they missed Capela's presence inside, as D-mo and Jones were routinely taken advantage of by Denver's forays into the paint and pushed around by Kenneth Faried and Joffrey Lauvergne.

The second quarter opened up with Houston getting hot from downtown. Marcus Thornton drained two early triples to lead the Rockets on a 17-3 run to get them right back into the game, and James Harden drained two more down the stretch of the quarter to bring the Rockets all the way back to tie the game at 50.

The Rockets found success despite Jones going down with what looked like an eye injury and D-Mo going to the bench with 3 fouls. The outside bombardment kept Denver off balance, and the Rockets managed to hold them to an 18-point quarter after giving up a huge first period.

Houston went into the halftime lockers up 58-54, led by 13 points from Harden and 11 from Thornton. Both knocked down 3 triples in the first half.

The Rockets came out in the third frame and went straight to Motiejunas, who started the second half in place of Jones, and D-Mo didn't disappoint. He hit another triple and two nifty hooks from the paint and also assisted on a big three by Trevor Ariza to put the Rockets up by 10 points, 70-60. But when Howard and Motiejunas both went to the bench with 4 fouls, the Rockets had no one inside, the the Nuggets made their move.

Will Barton and Jameer Nelson both hit threes and layups, as they teamed with Gary Harris and absolutely took it to Harden and an overmatched Ty Lawson on the perimeter. And with no bigs left in the paint to help, the Nuggets closed the quarter on a huge 20-5 run to reclaim the lead 88-82.

Barton continued to light it up from deep to start the fourth, as the Nuggets pushed the lead to 93-84, but the Rockets managed to stick around behind the offense of D-Mo, who hit his third triple of the night and yet another hook to bring the Rockets to with 6 points, 95-89. But the Rockets allowed Barton and Danilo Gallinari to consistently get inside to push the Denver lead back to 103-89 with under 7 minutes left.

The Rockets did buckle down and mount a final attempt at comeback down the stretch. Harden and Ariza hit two of the Rockets' season-high 18 threes, and the Beard scored off of two drives to bring the Rockets to within 110-108 with only 37 seconds left. The defense had turned up the heat in the final four minutes, leading to a 15-2 run, but Jason Terry rimmed out the go-ahead triple with just 15 seconds left, the Nuggets got the rebound and closed out the 114-108 victory.

James Harden led the Rockets with 24 points and 6 assists on 9-20 shooting, including 5-8 from deep, and Motiejunas had his best game since his return from surgery, putting in 19 points on 7-11 from the field and 3-4 from three.

D-Mo looked good offensively, not so great defensively, and was noticeably gassed in the second half, but it was good to see him rounding into form during his 22 minutes of action.

The Rockets also got 14 points from Patrick Beverley, 13 from Thornton, and 13 points and 8 rebounds from Dwight Howard.

The Nuggets were lead by Barton's 23 points and 21 from Harris, as they swept the season series from the Rockets 3-0 and move to 10-14 on the season.

The Rockets drop to back under .500 at 12-13 and need to tighten up the defense as they head into tomorrow night's game in Sacramento against the Kings.

It's a disappointing result in what should have been a winnable game in what is fast becoming a recurring theme of the season. The Rockets just can't seem to consistently beat the teams they are supposed to.