The Rockets have had a lot of weird games this year, part of the territory of being one of the most dysfunctional teams in the NBA. That being said, this may have been the weirdest one yet, and miraculously, it wound up a 100-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. They shot abysmally from the free-throw line, gave away 22 turnovers, and still won, Sometimes you just have to laugh.
Here's how weird the first half was: the Rockets were 2-20 from three-point range before halftime, and 18-23 from two-point range. They managed to go into the second half up 53-52 on the strength of their takeaways -- they produced eight steals and six blocks, and got on the break fantastically well:
Amazingly, that 2-20 number was red hot compared to the Rockets' second half. They missed their first 13 threes until Patrick Beverley's clutch trey in the corner to take the lead 97-95 with less than a minute remaining. That they could shoot 3-34 from long distance in a game and win is astonishing, and speaks to the performance of Harden and the mess that is the New Orleans Pelicans. Houston isn't the only team playing beneath its potential, after all.
Without James Harden, the Rockets would not have been in this game, as has been the case countless times. And yet, it was a deeply strange performance. He had 39 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four steals but gave away the ball eight times. He also had a listless defensive performance in the first half before ratcheting up the intensity about halfway through the third quarter. Harden was the only Rocket putting points on the board during the turnover fest that was the beginning of the fourth quarter, but he was also one of the main culprits of sloppiness.
The Pelicans are one of the better matchups for Harden. Their starting shooting guard, Eric Gordon, is known as a scrapper but is undersized. The Beard didn't feel much pressure and got to the line with frequency, finishing 16-18 from the charity stripe (and it could have been more).
Dwight Howard looked like a man who has given up on Wednesday night. He stopped setting screens entirely during his time in the third quarter, opting to just camp out in the low post. He drew multiple three-second violations, ruined at least two Harden drives by allowing his man to crowd the lane, among other offenses:
That was probably Pat's fault for trying to throw a lob when a simple chest pass would have done, but it just underlines how out of sync Dwight is with his teammates. That beautiful fast break was the exception to the rule. His defense in the half court still looked good, but after a season-high 20 field goal attempts in his last game, it's pretty obvious Dwight's trying to pad his stats for his upcoming free agency.
With Howard playing out the string, the Rockets looked much more dangerous with Clint Capela, who made some excellent plays defensively, and he's an active screener. Even Donatas Motiejunas looked spry out there, doing a decent job defending Anthony Davis when playing the four.
More than D-Mo, Trevor Ariza was the main force bothering AD, fronting him in the post and holding him to 12 points on the game. He also had four steals, and though he was part of the brickfest with an 0-7 line from behind the arc, he disrupted crucial Pelicans possessions down the stretch to make a crucial eight-point run to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
With the win, the Rockets get to within one game of .500 once again and hold on to that eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. Keep it up and they'll get that rematch with the Golden State Warriors that no one was hoping for.