Initially, with Jeremy Lin out of the picture due to his ankle injury, the Houston Rockets looked disorganized and selfish. But since the return of Chandler Parsons, things have been looking better. James Harden isn’t as selfish and even putting an effort on defense, while Dwight Howard is playing his best basketball since signing that huge deal in the summer.
All this led to a 98-88 win over the Orlando Magic, getting enough in the early going of the game to allow the Rockets to lose by 12 points in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard celebrated his 28th birthday with a 20 points, 22 rebounds performance, his first 20-20 game for the Rockets and third 20-rebounds game of the season, averaging 13.3 per game so far.
James Harden didn’t stop his frustrating habits of taking tough shots or driving to the basket with four or five players in the way, but there are days everything works for him. He peppers that with some nice assists (like the between-the-legs-of-a-defender to Terrence Jones) and what might be his most serious defensive effort of the season, holding Arron Afflalo on 16 points and 6-of-17 from the field, finally looking like someone willing to work around screens and run around the perimeter. Harden finished with 27 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in one of his best games this season.
One of the good things to watch about the Rockets these last two games is Chandler Parsons giving life to the transition game. He brings movement, effort and vision that isn’t there when both he and Lin aren’t playing. Parsons had a great game with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, hitting 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. This was one of those games in which Kevin McHale, the number one preacher of spacing and ball movement (although he rarely forces his team and key player to live by his words), could have been really happy about what he saw, especially because Jeremy Lin wasn’t playing.
Patrick Beverley remains someone who shouldn’t be in the lineup, but when everything works out well, as the Magic struggle to put on any kind of defensive effort while Nikola Vucevic is out injured, even he seems like a legitimate starting player. He scored 9 points, but at the end of the day, his defense isn’t worth the minutes he takes away from Lin and especially not that starting spot, not being able to match Lin’s shooting, scoring, passing and overall on-court intelligence.
Slowly the Rockets are building a nice winning streak, dropping only 3 out of their last 13. They’re still not consistent enough or with a clear identity to be considered a threat to the big boys in the Western conference – right now the Spurs, Thunder and Blazers, but once Lin returns and McHale actually makes good use of him instead of making the same mistakes over and over again, there’s no reason the Rockets can’t be one of the top 4 teams in the West till the end of this season, not to mention being right up there with the names mentioned as title contenders.