Houston looked listless in the first half, giving up easy layups, failing to move the ball -- or themselves -- on offense and it showed. The Rockets trailed 55-52 at halftime, and the Pelicans didn't even seem like they were playing that well. The Rockets were down by as much as 9 points at one point before a closing flurry by James Harden and Terrence Jones brought the game close.
It didn't get much better in the beginning of the third quarter. The Rockets gave up wide open three-pointers to Eric Gordon on back-to-back possessions and a wide-open jumper to Anthony Davis as the lead again stretched to nine. But James Harden wouldn't let the Rockets lose a third consecutive game.
He started dancing with the ball and penetrating at will. Quincy Pondexter was charged with covering him for a while, and he couldn't stay in front of him for more than a few seconds. None of the Pelicans' able help defenders could alter his shots at the rim, and he made all but one shot he took from close in.
While Harden was doing his thing in the half court, Corey Brewer was doing his on the break. The man that Bill Worrell is calling "The Greyhound" -- and we need a Hound back in our lives with Game of Thrones debuting during the fourth quarter of tonight's game -- was a terror in transition, using his perfect Eurostep to throw defenders off balance and get to the rim.
There were times when Brewer had the ball and as many as three Pelicans defenders were back. It didn't matter. He found a lane, sprinted, busted out a Eurostep and got a clean layup. With Brewer and Harden, the Rockets possess two of the more consistent finishers at the rim among all wings in the NBA.
Harden was brilliant, especially late in the third quarter when he started to assert himself. He scored 30 points and dished out 7 assists, and the grey brigade at point guard -- 38 year olds Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni -- were the beneficiaries. They combined for 24 points and six three-pointers, four of which Harden assisted on.
It's time to talk about Dwight Howard. The big man played 28 minutes tonight and he was quite effective, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. It's hard to say how many points he would have scored had the Pelicans not resorted to the Hack-a-Howard in the fourth quarter, but his job this year is not to score a whole bunch of points.
Howard cleaned the glass excellently, getting great elevation and bringing down a bunch of rebounds in traffic. He blocked three shots, an encouraging sign, and clearly was a deterrent to several Pellies on their jaunts to the rim. He rebounded and defended the rim, which are his primary roles.
Harden did his thing, Howard did his, Brewer and the rest of the team chipped in (we're ignoring Joey Dorsey somehow getting a -10 in six minutes) and the Rockets came away with the win. That's the formula, and it worked tonight.
The Rockets remain in sixth place, and if the season ended today, they would play the Clippers in the first round. They are a half-game behind the Spurs, who are in second place. Houston, L.A. and Memphis all have the same record, but the Rockets, of course, have no tiebreakers.