Last night, the Rockets snapped a three-game losing streak as they beat the Suns in Phoenix 123-116. This loss marked the 12th straight for Phoenix and the first time in franchise history that the Rockets swept them in a season series. The Rockets also lowered their magic number to clinch the 3-seed to one.
This was a very different looking Rockets team that beat the Suns. Ryan Anderson sat his fifth straight game due to a bum ankle. Trevor Ariza did not play due to a death in the family. But most importantly, James Harden did not play in this game either. He sat because he was experiencing flu-like symptoms, not because he aggravated his wrist injury, or that he wanted to contradict himself with his statements on rest. Nope, he just had the flu. Flu season sucks! Wash your hands, kids!
Despite three starters sitting out, the Rockets still got the job done. Yes, it was against the cellar-dwellers of the Western Conference, but a win is a win. This was in large part to the Rockets starting three players age 22 or younger.
Clint Capela had a nice night with eight points and 12 boards. Rookie Troy Williams, who made his Rockets debut, sunk six of his nine threes for a career-high 21. To put that into perspective, he made 10 threes in his 24 games with the Grizzlies earlier this season, and had a previous career-high of 13.
Sam Dekker also got the start for Ariza, but only played 19 scoreless minutes, and left the game with a broken hand in the fourth. As of last night, Dekker is the only Rocket to have played in every game this season, and this broken hand likely has him out for the year. Very unfortunate for a guy that had a very strong season in the rotation this year. He was a bright spot for the Rockets all year, and even though a win was salvaged, the loss of Dekker shadows the win.
The Rocket vets complemented the young guys last night, with Lou Williams scoring 23 off the bench and Nene putting up 17. Eric Gordon put up 22, but the star of the night was none other than Pat Beverley. The Wolverine had a career-high 26 points, dropped 9 dimes, and grabbed 8 boards.
On the opposing end, Suns rookie Tyler Ulis also had a career-high in points with 34. He also had 9 assists and 9 rebounds to flirt with a triple-double. Fellow rookie Dragan Bender returned from injury with 9 points and 7 boards in 14 minutes off the bench. Phoenix is bad, there is no getting around that. They lost at home to a team with three starters sitting out, but they have some nice pieces and if they can develop the team strongly, they will be dangerous soon.
All in all, last night was a nice win from Houston. We got to see something different and confidence was infused back into the team. Even rookies Kyle Wiltjer and Isaiah Taylor, the latter making his NBA debut, saw some action. Beverley and Troy Williams got to put up career-highs and we saw a new flash of this team. The Dekker injury sucks, especially because this game may not mean much when it is all said and done, but a win is a win, and I’m sure the team is excited about that.
On Wednesday, the Rockets play the Nuggets at home. Who knows what this team will look like on Wednesday! Maybe Ariza and Harden will be back, maybe not. Maybe the Rockets will already have the 3-seed locked. Maybe they won’t. Can we just get to the playoffs without injuring any more of our players please?