In a clash of undefeated teams, the Houston Rockets came out on top as their duo of stars, Dwight Howard and James Harden, dominated in a 108-91 win, outplaying Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
It wasn’t just the stars. The role players, including Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley did a much better job than Norris Cole and Luol Deng. The Rockets played without Terrence Jones but that didn’t really hurt them, because of how efficient both Harden and Howard were with the ball. In general, it seems like someone has been working on fixing something that was a glaring problem for the team during last season.
Harden missed a triple double by one rebound, finishing with a 25-9-10 stat line. Once again, he found it quite easy to get to the line, hitting a perfect 10-for-10 while shooting 6-of-13 from the field. Over the last three games, he has scored 86 points but with only 18 field goals. That is the fewest ever for a player who has scored at least 85 points over a three game stretch. He’s only shooting 38.8% from the field this season, but averaging 27.2 points.
Howard had no problem dominating against Bosh or Justin Hamilton, as the absence of Chris Andersen was sorely felt for the Heat under the basket. Howard led his team with 26 points and 10 rebounds, not letting his five turnovers or 6-of-11 from the line ruin his day. He helped disrupt the Heat’s offense and especially the ball movement, with the Heat finishing with just 16 assists. They were averaging an NBA best 58.7 points off of assists heading into the game.
What’s so successful about the Rockets this season, different from last year? They’re moving the ball and swinging it around a lot more, averaging seven more passes per game compared to last season. This means more points off of assists compared to last season (56 to 52). It also shows when it comes to their 3-point shooting, hitting just under 44% so far this season, compared to just 36% on the same amount of shots. They’re simply getting better ones.
The Heat suffered from the same problem they had in the playoffs last year: The stars showed up, but no one tagged along with them. Chris Bosh scored 21 points on 8-of-14 from the field. Dwyane Wade scored 19 points on 7-of-11 from the field. The rest of the team hit only 32.6% of their shots. For the Rockets, Beverley, back in the lineup, scored 15 points. Trevor Ariza, having a fantastic start to the season on his new/old team, scored 19 points and added three steals. It wasn’t all just Harden and Howard.
Maybe this was also about the difference between the East and the West right now. Teams of similar “caliber” but it felt like one of them was a bit out of its league right now. The Heat scored only 14 points in the fourth quarter and lost the quarter scoring battle over the last three. The Rockets look better than ever during the Kevin McHale era, and that’s even without Harden shooting very well from the field. Maybe they’re catching everyone off guard at the moment, but it is possible that they might get even better very soon.