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James Harden triple-double leads Rockets to easy win over the Hornets

An MVP performance and 26 points from a dominant Eric Gordon lifts the Rockets to 5-1.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden and Eric Gordon continue to stake their claim as the best backcourt in the NBA — with or without Chris Paul — in a comfortable 109-93 win.

Harden had his first triple-double of the season, which means his MVP candidacy begins now! He had 27 points on 18 shots, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and stout defense once again. Eric Gordon ran the offense in the 11 minutes Harden was off the floor and was a +14, scoring 26 points and hitting 6/16 on three-pointers.

Gordon popped off the screen once again. He’s averaging over 25 points per game in the Rockets’ 5-1 start and would probably be All-NBA third team if the season ended today (small sample-size theater!). He looks significantly better than he did last year, and now his shot has come around. I’d put a fair amount of money on him finishing the year with 20 points per game if he stays this healthy (please stay this healthy).

The Rockets still aren’t running with any urgency; they had 5 fast-break points on the night. But what they’ve lost in sprinters like Pat Beverley, Lou Williams and Sam Dekker, they have gained in toughness and defense. The Hornets aren’t the Warriors, but the Rockets did a good job defensively on those guys, too.

What’s impressive are the shots they have been able to generate in the half-court offense. It’s almost as if the Rockets are trying to adjust to playing with Paul while Paul is hurt, but it’s probably just due to the age of this rotation.

Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker are playing Trevor Ariza-level minutes in his absence, with 41 and 37, respectively. But they are just so darn good right now. They shot a combined 5/10 from three-point range, had three turnovers between them and were the team’s highest plus-minus players — LMAM was +23 and Tucker +28.

Tucker guarded Dwight Howard for stretches and did it well. Clint Capela, who got in foul trouble early and often, did not, and finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds.

I guess we have to talk about Dwight, who was the Hornets’ best player. He was the reason the Hornets had the lead for parts of this game, dominating the first quarter and characteristically disappearing in the fourth. He finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds.

The best part of the game? With three minutes left, the Hornets in the bonus and down but not out, Mike D’Antoni hacked Dwight Howard. He missed the first free throw, and it was glorious. He made 5/15 from the line because of course he did, and the game goes far differently if he’s even as good as Capela is now from the line. Outstanding.

It’s more fun to talk about the good guys. And how could I write about this game without writing about TWENTY-SIX MINUTES OF BOBBY BROWN. Bobby looked super charming out there, just really being chill and making everyone feel good about themselves. Really lifted the other guys on the floor around him. He was a +16 with 7 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists and you just can’t coach that natural charisma.

The Rockets are 60-28 with Bobby Brown on the roster. Numbers don’t lie.

Houston gets a chance to avenge its only loss of the season on the second night of a back-to-back in Memphis, who inexplicably lost to the Mavericks after they beat the Rockets. Never underestimate the power of a letdown game.

With the Spurs getting spanked by the Magic because it’s 2017 and nihilism has corrupted our nation’s institutions (it’s only explanation for a first-place Orlando Magic), the Rockets are tied for second place in the West behind the undefeated Clippers.

Just wait until this team gets healthy.