For some reason, the NBA saw fit to make the Rockets play a back-to-back in two of their last three games of the season, but Houston responded by coasting against the Charlotte Hornets tonight while sitting Dwight Howard, 100-90. So far, the Rockets have done their job to maximize the likelihood that they finish with homecourt advantage. James Harden, the MVP, only needed 3 points in the fourth quarter but finished with 29 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
Let's just say that this wasn't a game with playoff atmosphere. Charlotte is playing out the string, and the Rockets were on the second game of a back-to-back and trying desperately to stay healthy. Still, you know one thing we can say about this game that we almost never can? The Rockets kept their opponents at arm's length, and the game was never in doubt in the second half. Can you believe it?!
I saw some fans on Twitter saying that the sloppiness and low energy of this game is a bad sign going into the playoffs. If you believe in momentum, there's some merit to that thought. But the Rockets haven't had a comfortable win like this in a long time, and I think it's a good sign for their confidence. Houston's final game of the season is against the Jazz on Wednesday, and they are no pushover, especially on defense. That will be a better litmus test for the playoffs.
The Hornets stayed in the game for so long mostly because the Rockets gave them an obscene number of open looks from three, and the Hornets knocked a respectable amount of them down, especially in the second quarter. On the whole, it was obvious that while the Rockets are banged up and weren't playing their hardest, they are a different class of basketball team than Charlotte.
The bench unit, while depleted, actually played very well tonight. Josh Smith had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and facilitated a lot of good offense on the inside, so we'll have to forgive his 1-6 mark from deep. Pablo Prigioni is an absolute delight when facilitating an offense (even on nights like tonight when he doesn't score), and he's a great defender of passing lanes, even if he's well below average on the ball. I'd ride with him as my backup point guard any day.
You don't need me to tell you how great Corey Brewer is at this point. He only had 11 points, but he was still a factor in transition.
Clint Capela got real run, scoring 10 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. It is painfully obvious how much more viable of an option he is than Joey Dorsey. I'm not saying he's good, but he can at least make opposing guards think twice about driving the lane with Dwight on the bench, and I daresay he's already a better finisher in the lane. Neither of them can make free throws.
So, here we are. One game left in this crazy regular season. So much still needs to be settled in the next couple of days, but the Rockets are officially a 55-win team for the first time since 2007-08, and the second time since Hakeem still wore the ketchup and mustard (which looked great tonight -- more please). What a season.