Another game, another example that the Rockets are a historically great offensive team, and they can do anything. The squad Daryl Morey assembled and Mike D’Antoni unleashed hosted the full-strength Memphis Grizzlies, the fourth-best defense in the NBA, and they ran them out of the Toyota Center.
It wasn’t a surprise. A few days earlier, the Rockets ran the Los Angeles Clippers off their home floor. In the five games they’ve played since the All-Star break, since they traded Corey Brewer for Lou Williams, they have scored more than 120 points four times. It doesn’t matter whom they play — and they will continue to have nights like they did against the Pacers — the Rockets are an offensive juggernaut, and most nights they cannot be stopped.
Saturday in Houston, they beat the Grizzlies 123-108. James Harden had 33 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds, including a 20-point third quarter that all but assured the game’s final result. Clint Capela continued his resurgent play, contributing 24 points and 11 rebounds and Patrick Beverley added to his All-Defense team campaign with a 12-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist, 3-steal game. He even got to make his debut in front of the NBA TV camera.
Even with Lou Williams scoring just 9 points, the Rockets had too much potency to be contained. Nene scored 11 points, and clearly he and Capela have responded to the Rockets’ naked pursuit of big man free agent play with intensity on the court. That’s two straight games against All-Star centers Nenela have more than held their own.
This time, rather than his teammates getting hot around him, Harden provided the heat. He shot 6/10 from deep, and Eric Gordon shot 6/9. Williams, Anderson and Ariza shot a combined 3/19, but it didn’t matter. All the Rockets need is for two of their high-volume shooters to get hot, and it’s enough. When Harden and Gordon are those two, it’s even more dangerous, because the floor opens up more for Capela on the inside.
Some of the Grizzlies came to play. Marc Gasol is always a load, although he missed all three of his three-point attempts, which helped the cause. JaMychal Green went for 20-10 on 9/11 shooting as Ryno had one of those game like the beginning of the season that made us (briefly) question if his defense was going to keep him off the floor.
Chandler Parsons was not one of those players who showed up. He scored 2 points in 19 minutes. His legs are so much weaker than they once were; most of his shots were short, including wide-open corner three that barely grazed the rim. He didn’t exactly help a robust defensive effort either.
The Rockets are now 44-19, and if it weren’t for the San Antonio Spurs’ annoying resilience — they came back from fourth-quarter deficits to win in overtime on back-to-back nights, the jerks — the Rockets would be climbing up the standings and chasing the second seed. Regardless, they’re almost guaranteed the crucial third seed and the chance to avoid the Golden State Warriors until, if all goes well, the Conference Finals (again).
The Grizzlies, Morey said on The Lowe Post podcast this weekend, recorded a day before our own Danny Emerman interviewed him at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, have the highest statistical likelihood to be the Rockets’ first-round matchup this year. Their size and defensive ability have always presented challenges to the Rockets in the James Harden era.
They didn’t on this night. Morey rightly pointed out that the West is damn good, one through seven. If they want even a chance to play the Warriors for the third straight year in the playoffs, they will have to beat two of the Grizzlies, Spurs, Clippers, Jazz and Thunder. They have beaten all of those teams at least once this year. Nothing can stop the Rockets except themselves. And the longer this squad plays together, the less they seem to get in their own way. That should be a scary thought to the rest of the NBA.