The Houston Rockets’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night was a tough one to swallow. Even though the Rockets got the lead as high as 15 against the injury-riddled and Anthony Davis-less team, New Orleans was able to storm back and get an inspired win on the road.
Good, bad, or just news, here are some takeaways from the game:
Kenneth Faried Is A Legit Back-Up Big
Kenneth Faried had probably the most legitimate test as a back-up big that he could have asked for, going head-to-head with back-up center Jahlil Okafor (maybe starting center from now own) in starting roles. Faried held his own on the glass, cleaning up with 11 boards, 7 offensive, for his third-straight double-double. He also did his usual thing and scored a bunch of dunks and layups for 19 points, Most impressive, though, was his physicality inside against a much taller Okafor. Faried made tough, well-guarded layups inside, often draped by Okafor or two defenders.
Harden (15p/4a) bounces it to Faried (13p/7r) off the pick-and-roll! #doitBIG 53#Rockets 66— NBA (@NBA) January 30, 2019
2:23 2nd quarter on @NBAonTNT. #PlayersOnly pic.twitter.com/TFeFQIsFF8
This is promising for a Houston team that looks much too small down low when Capela isn’t in the lineup.
Having a 6-foot-8 career power forward at center does come with its troubles, though. Houston got bullied in the paint all night, allowing an absurd amount of points in the lane. They also got out-rebounded by 10 total boards. That’s an obvious weakness they’ll have until Clint Capela returns. The good news here though is that the Rockets now have options at the five when Capela ultimately does return.
More on Faried’s revitalized career with the Rockets here.
Houston’s Defense Had Zero Chance In The Paint
If you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “No duh,” just hold on a second. Before their game against New Orleans, these were the amount of points Houston gave up in the lane: 44 against Orlando, 52 against Toronto, 48 against New York, and 38 against Philadelphia.
Against the Pelicans, the Rockets gave 70 points in the paint. This was without Anthony Davis in the lineup. The Sixers, with Joel Embiid playing, barely scored more than half of that number. Houston’s defensive has to be more proactive to eliminate easy shots inside.
As great as Faried has been for the Rockets, his ability to protect the rim is only as good as the Rockets’ team defense is. If Houston is playing smart and as a unit, they’re forcing opponents into help for contested shots. The Rockets can’t have an off night and be lazy on defense with Capela not on the floor to pick up the slack. Even when shots aren’t falling like they were tonight, effort is the one thing that can be controlled.
Chris Paul Can Do Other Things
At no point in time should you have thought that CP3 was going to step back onto the court and start dropping 20 points a night. If you did, you played yourself.
Out the gate, Paul hasn’t really been seeking his shot, averaging 8.5 only FGA in two games. Instead, he’s doing what he does best and is playing the role of floor general. In only 26 minutes of play, Paul racked up nine assists, four rebounds, and only two turnovers to go along with his modest 10 points.
While he may look hesitant at times, he’s still dropping dimes like this one:
.@CP3 with the beautiful bounce-pass to PJ Tucker.— theScore (@theScore) January 30, 2019
( : @HoustonRockets)pic.twitter.com/7MdkRm84Kw
Patience will be needed with him as he rehabs himself back into game speed. Still, it’s much better to have him on the floor than on the bench.
Harden SOMEHOW Kept The 30-Point Streak Alive
This is one of those things to report that’s kind of just reporting. It’s not really a sense of awe or wonder that he did keep the streak alive, but more of the fact that it looked like, for the first time in a long time, the streak was going to end.
James Harden headed into the fourth quarter with only 20 points, which would be much ado about nothing, if it weren’t for the fact that he was 6-of-21 up until that point. Aside from the first two free throws he hit at the beginning of the final period, Harden didn’t make his first field goal until 6:55 left in the game to give him 25. That tidbit makes it really difficult to understand how he ended up with 37 points for the game. Even more bewildering is the fact that he didn’t 30 until there was 1:55 left in the game.
So maybe there is a sense of awe to this when I put it this way. That’s not to detract from the fact that it was an ugly game for him (11-32 FGA) - it just kind of adds to the mysticism of this incredible streak, because games like this were bound to happen. Harden has now scored 30 points in 24 straight games, putting himself at the fourth-longest streak in NBA history, with Wilt Chamberlain owning the other three streaks.
He also has this stat under his belt:
James Harden has played his 14th and final game in January.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 30, 2019
His 43.6 PPG in January were the 7th most in a calendar month in NBA history, and the most by any player not named Wilt Chamberlain (min. 10 games).
Harden Inexplicably Went Out Of Bounds To Essentially Close The Game
This is one of those things that has to be brought up for the sheer weirdness of it all. Remember when P.J. Tucker just stared at the inbounds pass, and no one could figure it out, but it was probably for good reason? This was that play.
Harden thought he got fouled so he just ran out of bounds pic.twitter.com/n2ibbWKtkW— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 30, 2019
Down 4 with about 17 seconds left, Harden is seemingly forced out of bounds by some contact from Jrue Holiday. But instead of the foul call, Harden is called out of bounds. After looking at the replay, it’s hard to argue that there is an actual foul there. There is contact, for sure, but a foul?
Harden may have felt the contact, and maybe it was enough to make him pick up the dribble, but to not stop himself from running out of bounds and force the ref to make the call is one of those things that can’t happen in a game like this. Even if he is right, and he usually is, this isn’t a risk that’s worth the payoff in these situations. On one hand, you get the foul shots. On the other, you commit a turnover, and all but end the game. Harden looked visibly exhausted at game’s end (and has for a few games now). Could that have a role in this strange decision by The Beard?
Luckily for Houston, they’ll have plenty of time to move on from this loss before facing the Nuggets in Denver on Friday.