James Harden, John Wall

Dealing with injuries all season long hasn’t stopped the Houston Rockets from climbing to second place in the West, following a 99-91 win over the Washington Wizards, once again led by James Harden, getting plenty of help from his supporting crew.

Harden scored 24 points on a rough shooting day (7-of-20 from the field). As always, when Harden isn’t at his best, the Rockets get a very good performance from Corey Brewer, scoring 15 points. Josh Smith started instead of Donatas Motiejunas, who joined Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley and Kostas Papanikolaou on the long injury list. Smith finished with 14 points.

Dwight Howard keeps getting back in shape after his long absence, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in just 19 minutes of basketball. Unlike his return game, the defense actually wasn’t at its best when he was around. Trevor Ariza scored 13 points on 3-of-9 from the field, almost all of his shots from beyond the arc. The Rockets have a method, and even on bad shooting days (42.5%) they aren’t pushed away from it. Harden might be the only one allowed to digress from the Morey Plan.

It’s impressive to see what the Rockets have done this season. The offseason came with a lot of criticism (including from us) on the moves of Daryl Morey. He sure didn’t plan on losing Chandler Parsons, but they bounced back well quickly. The Josh Smith acquisition, the trade for Brewer, the improvement of Motiejunas and the efficiency of Terrence Jones (when he’s actually healthy) have made them even better than last year.

But will it be enough? Home court advantage has been part of the package last year and they stumbled against the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. This season it’s not going to be any easier, probably heading towards a meeting with the Dallas Mavericks and Parsons in round 1. Hard to say what’s a good and bad draw in such a loaded and close West.

As for the opposition, the season is looking less and less special for the Wizards, beginning the year thinking that they’re ready to win the East or at least make a serious effort at challenging for it, and are only eight games above .500 with eight left to play in the season. Sure, the Eastern conference playoffs are wide open just like in the West, only with less quality in the air, but the Wizards are disappointed with where they’re at right now.

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