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Rockets outlast Suns 113-102 behind James Harden’s near-triple-double

Houston took care of business during a Sunday matinee

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets won again Sunday afternoon, dispatching the Phoenix Suns with relative comfort and moving to to 35-13 on the season. They have won eight of their last 10 games.

This win was bittersweet, however, because ironman Trevor Ariza went to the locker room after an awkward fall 30 seconds into the game. He landed on his left leg, grabbed his hamstring, hit his two free throws and did not return.

Luc Mbah a Moute replaced him and played 32 outstanding minutes. He was the Rockets’ second-best player in this game, playing his usual excellent defense and scoring 13 points.

The Rockets’ best player, as per usual, was James Harden, who finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and a block.

The first half was controlled by the referees. The teams combined to shoot 45 free throws, and we all sat staring at our screens (or in our seats) wondering what, in fact, continuation is supposed to mean in the modern NBA. Harden was robbed of six to eight points in the first quarter from fouls after his gather into a shooting motion. It was infuriating, especially after Josh Jackson and Chris Paul were awarded continuations on plays much less obvious than Harden’s.

Despite that, Harden had 15 points on 7 shots, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in the first half. He was the engine on both ends of the floor. The defense was sloppy, lackadaisical and Tyson Chandler picked up right where DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis left off, punishing the Rockets inside. If he were more skilled offensively, the Suns would not have been down seven points at halftime.

Harden led the team to a soaring start out of the gates at halftime, taking a nearly 20-point lead, on they would never relinquish. The Suns got to within 8 points in the fourth quarter, and it became rather obvious with about 4 minutes left that Chris Paul was nowhere to be found. The Rockets’ defense was allowing layups, the offense was producing so/so shots, and Paul was back in the locker room.

The answers to why Paul was absent in a moment where he could have been quite helpful are unsatisfying.

Luckily for Houston, the Suns are not built to come back all the way down from double digits on the road. Clint Capela got some huge offensive rebounds, and any chance of an exciting finish was wiped away. The Swiss Roll finished with another double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The game was the eighth straight the Rockets played on national television, a streak that will end on Tuesday when they host the Magic. The two games after that will be massive contests that they will need Paul and Ariza for: Thursday in San Antonio on TNT, and Saturday night in Cleveland on ABC.

More thoughts from this game:

  • After another dismal first half, Ryan Anderson perked up big time in the second, hitting two three-pointers, drawing fouls and being helpful on defense. After the first shot went down, he became a different player. Let’s hope that guy sticks around for a while.
  • Eric Gordon shot 2-8 from deep and scored 13 points in this game. This pair’s cold shooting hasn’t killed the Rockets yet, but it might in the playoffs. Gordon is a much more useful player than Ryno if his shot isn’t falling, but he could be a series-changing catalyst if it is. He’s shooting 33 percent from deep on the season. He’s been good enough at everything else that it’s not too worrisome, but that won’t last all year.
  • Gerald Green was the beneficiary of Ariza’s absence ... and did just OK. He shot 2/5 from deep and was his usual below-average self on defense in 17 minutes of action. He, Nene and Ryno were the only three Rockets with negative plus-minuses. He can be a microwave scorer in certain instances, but Ryno is actually better at the non-shooting stuff than Green. I’m glad he’s here as an injury replacement for Ariza, but I just don’t get the clamoring for him to be a big part of the rotation. He’s a cut below everyone else in terms of usefulness.
  • Devin Booker is a player. He’s trying out the James Harden thing of playing point guard after a career as a two, and it looks pretty good. 31 points and 10 assists is some day at the office. He did most of his damage against average defenders, however. Every time LMAM matched up against him, he was contained.
  • Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson are two top-5 picks that I do not see becoming foundational pieces. Poor Suns fans.

I take it back. SCREW SUNS FANS