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Rockets prove they’re not invincible in loss to Pelicans

The full-health Rockets suffered their first loss of the season to a team they don’t match up well with.

Houston Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

With Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela all in the lineup Friday night, the Houston Rockets lost to the New Orleans Pelicans, 115-113. They are now 19-1 with those three players in the lineup. The fairy dust wore out.

The Rockets are the best defensive rebounding team in the league, but against DeMarcus Cousins — who ruptured his Achilles tendon late in the game and is done for the season — and Anthony Davis, they lost the battle of the boards. The two behemoths went for double-doubles, and the Rockets’ offense couldn’t make them pay enough on the back end.

The Pelicans might have presented a matchup nightmare in a first-round playoff series with the Rockets. But with Boogie’s depressing injury, Houston doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. The rest of my thoughts on the game are pretty sporadic, so I’ll organize them in the laziest way imaginable: bullet points!

  • Ryan Anderson looked terrible again. According to basketball-reference, his offensive rating was 0 for this game. I wasn’t sure that was possible for someone who played more than like 30 seconds. But he played about 14 minutes, scored no points, had no assists, and had no offensive rebounds. That’d do it I guess. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins on the other side combined to shoot 8-12 from deep. Ryno is supposed to be the counterbalance when randos on another team go bananas. Instead, he was an anchor dragging the Rockets’ offense down.
  • Capela is thrilled he won’t have to play against Boogie again. His quickness advantage was non-present, and the Pelicans had their way inside while he was thoroughly outplayed. The Swiss Roll is still one of the 10 best centers in the league, but he went up against the best and it showed.
  • Chris Paul had 38 points, 8 assists and no turnovers. What the hell even is that? I knew he was great before he was on the Rockets, but his absolute control of the game, on a night-in, night-out basis, is astonishing. This would have been a different game had he played even 10 percent worse. They needed every bit of his effort with Harden shooting 1/9 from distance.
  • Welcome back to the party, Eric Gordon. He shot 10-15 from the floor, hit four three-pointers and looked like November Gordon against his former team.
  • The Pellies played the Rockets tough in their previous matchups this year. This year’s Houston team is built to play with the Warriors, not with a team with maybe the two best big men in the league. That’s why the Pelicans experiment was so fun as an NBA fan: it’s completely counter to everything the league is moving toward. And I’m really bummed that Boogie is out now, because I wanted to see this squad play in the playoffs. Not against the Rockets mind you, but definitely against the Warriors or Spurs. Now Boogie is a free agent, and I’m not even sure if there’s a case of a 6-foot-11, 270-pound guy coming back successfully from a torn Achilles in league history before. I hope there is, and I hope he does. I hate this word because it rarely is used properly, but he is a unique player, and those are the kind of guys that make the NBA more fun.

The Rockets are now 34-13. They still have the league’s second-best offense, and their recent string of excellent play has elevated them to its 12th-best defense after a December dip. This was a road game in which Harden shot terribly, against a team the Rockets don’t match up well with that got unusually good bench contributions. And they just lost by two points. The Rockets are too good for moral victories, but this was damn close.