Winners of six of their last seven games, the Rockets swept their three-game homestand with impressive performances that showed their range in being able to beat you in a variety of ways.
A few thoughts:
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the media voters for MVP, it’s that most of them are looking for simple things to push the narrative. They want a simple stat or a simple highlight to make that decision for them — take a look at Russell Westbrook winning last year because of the whole ‘triple-double’ thing when he didn’t even have as good of an individual season nor as strong of team success as a well-known bearded fella here in Houston. And let’s not forget what Kawhi Leonard’s “block” last year against the Rockets did for his campaign.
Against the Warriors Saturday night, James Harden had that MVP moment that voters look for: his game-clinching shot over Stephen Curry. He’s the frontrunner again and, if he remains healthy, I think he takes it this year.
I can’t stress enough how good Chris Paul has been. Aside from the playmaking, the mid-range game, the defense… the dude shot 54.2% from beyond the arc on over 8 attempts per in the last three games, including several triples that keyed comebacks. It has to be brutal for opponents knowing that, not only do they have to deal with Harden and Paul together, but they’ll always have to deal with at least one of them at all times.
Speaking of Paul, he’s been very tight-lipped and emotionless with the media since the Clippers incident, though he has softened with each game. Can you really blame the guy? The media jumped the gun on that Los Angeles locker room story — even the always-reliable Adrian Wojnarowski, who clearly got info from the Clippers, butchered the details, and there were few, if any, retractions. There are still fans who believe Paul led an attack on the Clippers locker room through a secret passageway and Clint Capela was a decoy at the door. Several Rockets players, mostly Paul, took an unfair hit to their reputations. He has a right to be untrusting of the media right now.
Defense! Now that everybody is back, folks… it’s happening again. The Rockets were 6th in the league in defensive rating through the first 26 games before Luc Mbah a Moute got hurt, holding opponents to 102.1 points per game. Sprinkle in a few more injuries and things went south quick, with opponents dropping 109.9 points per 100 possessions against the Rockets in the next 16 games. But in this three-game homestand that included a matchup against the league’s top offense, the Rockets came in with a 101.4 defensive rating. That’s a small sample size, but it’s progress.
I’ve been hammering Ryan Anderson but I honestly don’t think I’ve been harsh enough. He has gone from misfiring to simply not firing at all, passing up open threes fairly often. Think about it — in the last three games, PJ Tucker has taken more threes than Anderson. Tucker! Anderson is a shooter, a guy who used to average 17+ a night, who appears to have lost his confidence and has become a $20 million John Doe rebounder. When he’s open for three but a player is closing on him, even from 10 feet out, Anderson balks. Make or miss, we need Anderson to take those shots. When the Rockets were truly thriving in that 25-4 start, Anderson was a 40% three-point shooter, taking 6-7 threes a night. He’s shooting 29.9% on 4.8 attempts in more minutes since then. The silver lining is there was a moment in the second quarter last night where Anderson didn’t hesitate, launching quick-release threes with Hassan Whiteside in his face.
Eric Gordon was ballin’ against Minnesota, carrying the Rocket offense on a night when Harden was shaking off the rust in his return from a hamstring injury. But in the two games since, Gordon has struggled, going 0-for-16 from three-point range. What you love about Gordon, unlike Anderson, is that he does not hesitate whatsoever. Give him the smallest of openings and he’ll get that shot off in a flash. But truth be told, he’s off this year from deep (33% on nearly 10 threes a game) — and he knows it. Long after the media was gone last night, Gordon exited the locker room to head home. I was talking with a friend in the hallway at the time and Gordon saw that we had the box score sheet. He stopped and asked to take a look at it. He gave it a long stare and shook his head. He knows his shot is AWOL right now. I have a feeling he’s going to come up big Wednesday in Dallas.
So now we know that Gerald Green is the odd man out of the rotation — he didn’t play a single minute in last night’s win. It’s very tough to bench a guy who is hitting 41.% from three on high volume, but what can you do? Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza gobble up the wing minutes and Tucker plays a key role. Gordon, while struggling, is way too important to bench for Green. Anderson is interesting but he plays the four and gets rebounds. If the Rockets go small more, yeah, then they can get Green minutes, but it’s a tough situation. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta came into the locker room after the game, congratulated the team, said hello to Harden and then went right to Green as they gave each other a hug and talked for awhile. I don’t know if being out of the rotation was a topic of conversation, but I found it interesting that it was Green that Fertitta spent time with.