It may have been a while, but it was worth the wait. The Houston Rockets were at full-strength tonight, perhaps for the first time all season if you consider Eric Gordon was injured from the start, and they showed us a glimpse of what they’re capable of, thrashing the Denver Nuggets 130-104 to start off the new year on a positive note.
Gordon was back healthy for his second game, and James Harden and Clint Capela were back from minor injuries to springboard Houston to one of their most impressive victories of the year thus far.
The Beard led the way with 35 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks on an ultra-efficient 10-17 shooting, while Capela went for another double-double, racking up 16 points and 10 boards.
It was also a pretty efficient night from Russell Westbrook, who finished with 28 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, and a block and steal, while shooting 11-22 from the field. He took just 2 three-pointers on the night (missing both), and despite a few questionable decisions at the game’s start, mostly looked to attack and do the things we want Good Russ to do.
But perhaps the game’s biggest story is the continued breakout from Isaiah Hartenstein. The young big man’s guarantee is up in January, and he’s doing everything he can to make sure the team picks it up for the rest of the season. He finished the night with a double-double off of the bench, going for 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 1 block on 6-8 shooting from the field, and his energy and hustle were noticeably infectious. If the Rockets can trot out a valuable backup center for 15-20 minutes a night, this team suddenly looks deep.
EG knocked down 3 triples and finished with 12 points, while Ben McLemore hit 3 for himself to round out the major contributors.
As for the Nuggets, they were led by Nikola Jokic, who finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, Monte Morris, who finished with 18 off of the bench, 13 points and 9 boards from Paul Millsap, 12 points and 6 assists from Jamal Murray, and 10 points apiece from Will Barton and Malik Beasley.
Houston now moves to 23-11 on the year and 3.5 games back of the Los Angeles Lakers, and though they are currently fourth place in the West, there’s only a half-game difference from positions two through four.
The Rockets return to action Friday night at the Toyota Center in a nationally televised contest against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Happy New Year!!