The game marked the return of All-Star starter James Harden to the lineup after missing the last seven games with a hamstring injury. Harden played just 26 minutes in return, notching 10 points and 7 assists. It was the first time all season that he did not eclipse 20 points in a game, but he was under a minutes restriction tonight as the Rockets do not want to rush his injury in fear of damaging the hamstring further.
Harden’s return was the opening headline going into the game, but Eric Gordon stole the show as he returned to his sixth man role. Gordon knocked down seven threes, including this 50-foot buzzer beater beauty to end the third quarter.
Eric Gordon nails the halfcourt buzzer-beater to end the 3Q!pic.twitter.com/5iUbg5NihM— MyNBAUpdate (@MyNBAUpdate) January 19, 2018
Gordon scored a team-high 30 points tonight and looked like the Sixth Man of the Year that we all know and love. However, he also had some solid support from the rest of his bench teammates tonight. Nene returned to action after missing the last five games with a knee injury and responded with a 12-point, 8-rebound performance.
Luc Mbah a Moute made the ascent into the starting lineup, replacing the suspended Trevor Ariza. After a shaky night Monday against the Clippers, he came back with 14 points, sinking four triples. As a team, the Rockets shot 17-39 from beyond the three-point line tonight, good for 42 percent.
On the defensive side, every player in the Rockets rotation recorded a steal tonight. I thought that was an interesting stat. Although the defense was not locked down, the Rockets held the NBA’s fourth-best offense to 10 points below their average output.
Even though the T-Wolves shot at a better percentage than the Rockets at 48.1 percent, the team could not nail their threes at the same rate as the Rockets, making only eight of 24 shots from deep. Jimmy Butler led the opposition with 23 points and Karl-Anthony Towns complemented him with 22 and 16 boards, but ultimately the team could not keep up with the Rockets’ three-point arsenal.
A win like this is important for the Rockets because the Wolves represent a potential playoff opponent. Minnesota sits just four games behind the Rockets for second place in the West and the team trails the Spurs by just 1.5 games for third. If Kawhi Leonard’s injury lingers, this could be a potential second-round matchup.
Aside from Gerald Green and Ariza not suiting up due to suspension, this team played at full strength for the first time since the season opener. Everybody is healthy, and that is a beautiful thing. Hopefully the Rockets can pick up this momentum and carry a run throughout the end of the month as the schedule eases up.
However, the Rockets still have one big challenge directly in front of them as the defending champion Warriors trot back into town Saturday night. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. CT.