There have been few bright spots for the Rockets this season, and even fewer for Ty Lawson. Wednesday night was bright for both as Lawson scored 12 points, dished out 6 assists and keyed a bench attack that led Houston over the New Orleans Pelicans, 108-101.
Lawson wasn't the only projected starter relegated to the bench to bust out of a slump. Terrence Jones scored 15 points on 6-12 shooting. Sure, he got roasted by Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, but at this point I'll take a solid one-way performance out of this guy, after a full 18 games of shoddy confidence.
The Rockets are 8-11. They beat a team that, despite postseason hopes, is now 4-15. While it's seemed just about as bad as possible for the Rockets, they could be much, much worse off. A performance like this all in one game from Lawson, Jones, James Harden (24 points in 20 FGA, 10 rebounds) and Trevor Ariza (13 points on 5/11 shooting) is far more encouraging than anything we saw in wins against the Sixers and Knicks.
For the first time in a long time, Harden played poorly for a sizeable part of the game, but the Rockets were able to stop themselves from losing because of the contributions of others. Dwight Howard scored just 8 points, giving us another game of evidence that his offensive game of even two years ago is an ever-lesser recurring phenomenon.
The Rockets found themselves down at halftime to a bad team. At home. Again. But a performance in which Lawson — who the Rockets have, ironically, desperately needed to produce — was able to go +23 in 29 minutes and attack the rim and initiate the offense aggressively was a real sign of encouragement.
It's been against underwhelming opponents, it's true, but the Rockets have won three of their last four games in multiple ways. This stretch has come at the perfect time in the schedule. The Rockets have continuity from last year, but the lack of effort and leadership in the first 20 games of the season has been their biggest obstacle.
Ex-Rocket Shane Battier said before Thanksgiving on Zach Lowe's terrific podcast that teams don't learn how to develop effort and consistency mid-season. Those values are instilled before the games begin and the great teams only work on maintaining them.
Battier is one of the smartest basketball thinkers out there, and he was a key to the Rockets' last overachieving team. It's almost hard to recognize a Rockets team that just can't get the most out of its players. It's jarring, after year after year of under-talented teams making runs at the playoffs to have über-talented teams threaten to not even get there.
That doesn't mean he's right about everything. The Rockets still have the same pieces they had in September, when hope was plentiful. Daryl Morey has said he believes in this team as constructed. I'm not sure I believe that he means that, but five straight more games like this and I could start to be convinced.