The Houston Rockets beat the Brooklyn Nets 102-98 to make it four in a row, but James Harden is hitting a rough patch in the season, possibly due to fatigue. Luckily for him, there’s someone else stepping up to make things easier for him in each game.
This time? Terrence Jones and a little bit of Trevor Ariza after Corey Brewer finally went cold, as it was bound to happen. Harden scored 15 points on just 4-of-15 from the field and is shooting just 35.1% from the field over the last five games. No worries. Everything still goes through him, and he finished with 12 assists, helping Terrence Jones (26 points) and Trevor Ariza (20 points) provide the shooting and points the Rockets needed.
Overall, the combination of Jones (grabbing 12 rebounds as well) and Donatas Motiejunas as the two big men for the Rockets while Howard remains sidelined has been working quite well for the team. Without an actual center, Josh Smith gets more minutes as the primary big man for the team, and showcased his shot blocking ability, finishing with four while also scoring 10 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench.
As long as the players around him keep stepping up, Harden can keep allowing himself to have terrible shooting games like this one, although it wasn’t just him. Markel Brown of the Nets did a good job on him. Harden might be an MVP candidate, but he’s not unstoppable, and we’ve seen a number of times this season players capable of slowing him down. When Harden doesn’t get the calls he wants from officials (“only” 7 shots from the line this time), he doesn’t seem to be such an exceptional scorer.
The win helps solidify the Rockets at third in the West, six games behind the Warriors and just 1.5 behind the Grizzlies, losing two in a row. The Rockets have blown home court advantage in the playoffs before (last season) and have yet to find themselves in the conference semifinals during the Harden era, but in a wide open West and a conference that’s impossible to read, it’s hard not to consider them as one of the main contenders for the title, even when Harden isn’t playing exceptional basketball.