On a night dedicated to the Rockets' back-to-back championship teams of 20 years ago, James Harden showed all of the Houston royalty that he's earning a place among them.
The MVBeard was a monster tonight. Fifty (50!) points, a new career high. He hit 22 of 25 free throw attempts, a new career high in attempts from the line. He was so good at getting to the rim and finishing/drawing fouls that it was a matter of routine. Denver's lack of size in the frontcourt meant that Harden could get anything he wanted inside.
James also grabbed 10 rebounds for fun. He was a city-destroying Godzilla in this game, and the main reason why this game was never close. Ever.
The second-biggest story of the game was the injury to Terrence Jones in the first half. He left with a reported rib injury, and there was some scary news reported on Twitter:
According to a source, Terrence Jones was wheeled out of the Toyota Center on a stretcher. He was sitting up with a towel over his head.— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) March 20, 2015
Dwight Howard might be close to coming back, but even so, T-Jones being out for any length of time would be devastating for Houston, considering how he's been playing since returning from his major leg injury earlier this season. He's been Houston's second-best player since returning to the starting lineup.
A prolonged T-Jones absence would be especially worrying for the Rockets' playoff seeding. They're in a tight race with Portland and the Clippers for a top-four seed, and the home-court advantage in the first round that would come with it. I have serious doubts they'd be able to hold on without both T-Jones and Howard.
Yes, I know that they were both out early in the year, and the Rockets did fine without them. But Trevor Ariza and Pat Beverley spent a good chunk of that period covered in flames, and it would be tough to bet on that coming back in time. It's certainly not time to give up, but it will be a struggle.
Maybe some fans at the Toyota Center were too busy checking their smartphones to see how their brackets were doing (mine's doing great, incidentally), but the crowd was just not there tonight until Harden hit a circus three-pointer to get his fiftieth point. In general, the Rockets never seemed to play with that much intensity, but happily, it wasn't required.
The lack of effort from the Rockets really showed up on defense. The Nuggets should not have been able to score 108 points, but perhaps because the Nuggets' uber-small lineup put Wilson Chandler at the 4, resulting in Josh Smith matching up with him for stretches, he was able to get free from the perimeter over and over. Regardless, the Rockets were abysmal closing out on shooters. The Nuggets missed tons of open looks.
Still, it's tough to gripe too much when the Rockets were able to keep an inferior team well out of reach from wire to wire. A rare night of relaxation in the endless grind of the NBA regular season. The Rockets have a relatively easy end to the schedule coming up (relative to the rest of the West), but they still have to take on the Spurs and Pelicans twice, and the Thunder one more time.
Keep your fingers crossed for T-Jones, because though the schedule could be tougher, they're going to need him back and healthy (and Dwight Howard, back and healthy) to make a run at the title.