The Houston Rockets continue to stand out in their ability to play very good basketball despite the absence of an All-Star caliber center. James Harden playing well is a given, but each time he gets big nights from the bench is a surprising bonus, although there’s nothing new about Corey Brewer putting up big numbers any more.
Harden scored 28 points and Brewer added 24 points, getting help from Trevor Ariza with 19 and Donatas Motiejunas with 18 as the Rockets cruised to a 114-100 win over the Denver Nuggets, a team simply waiting for the season to end so they can starting something new.
Brewer got past the 20-point mark for the sixth time since joining the Rockets from the Timberwolves via trade, which includes three games of that type of scoring in the previous month. Sure, it comes with some garbage time involved, but the Rockets, a team that’s about stretching the floor and following very clear path when it comes to the shots they’re taking, have assembled a very long list of players who give them rather unique depth at exactly what they’re trying to do.
The Rockets are taking it very slow with Howard, who is doing some conditioning, but it won’t be a surprise to see him kept out until the final couple of weeks of the regular season, easing him into the pace before the playoffs. They’re also missing Kostas Papanikolaou, although it’s a right ankle for him, and he should be back sooner than the center, which means the combination of Terrence Jones and Motiejunas in the frontcourt will continue to start.
It was good for the Rockets to see Ariza back in shooting form. He’s had a rough start to March, a decent February following an awful January. Ariza is the type of player who is an excellent indicator to the state of his team. He doesn’t create points by himself, relying completely on others to find him open on the perimeter. Solid shooting from him, confidence and obviously the defense which has been huge for the Rockets this season is a very good sign that everything is going according to plan.
Josh Smith, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, is slowly assimilating himself into the system. He still has nights in which he plays like there’s nothing in this world but him and his shots, but a big reason the Rockets have been able to handle Howard’s injury so well is Smith, who is still a very good rim protector and more often than not complies with the company policy. Keeping him in that state of mind can be huge for the Rockets come playoff time.