It’s not a surprise to see the Houston Rockets beat the defending NBA champions, San Antonio Spurs, so easily, remaining undefeated with James Harden and Dwight Howard dominating for a second straight year against a team that clearly has matchup problems against them.
If the Rockets wouldn’t have blown it in the first round series of the playoffs last season, we might have seen if sweeping a team in the regular season means something. But the Rockets lost to the Blazers in seven games, and the date with the Spurs in a best of seven series was postponed. Despite allegedly getting weaker over the offseason, the Rockets in the James Harden era, which began in the 2012-2013 season, have never looked any better.
Tim Duncan didn’t play and Tiago Splitter as well. It meant the Spurs, using the resting option on prime time for a second straight season, had no interior defense or offense, with Matt Bonner and Aron Baynes starting as the big men, while Boris Diaw and Jeff Ayres filled that role off the bench. They didn’t really come any close to troubling Howard and the Rockets, walking away with a 98-81 victory.
Dwight Howard enjoyed the vacuum in the paint to score a season high 32 points while grabbing 16 rebounds. He hit 12-of-18 shots and was even over .500 from the line, making 8-of-13. With that kind of efficiency from the center who is also on a mission to prove he is still the best in the NBA in his position, James Harden had a night in which he didn’t have to take the game on himself in terms of scoring, and although he turned the ball over eight times the win wasn’t in any doubt.
Harden scored 20 points on 8-of-15 from the field with a modest 3-of-6 from the line. Still, despite the irregular numbers from a player who is used to driving a lot more and shooting a lot more, the game unfolded in quite the easy way for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza was only 2-of-10 from the field, scoring seven points. Patrick Beverley didn’t play and didn’t have to. Isaiah Canaan scored 12 points as the “point guard” instead.
Jason Terry had a good game off the bench with plenty of garbage to help him bolster up his stats, hitting four 3-pointers en route to 16 points, his best since becoming a Rocket. Gregg Popovich doesn’t care about prime time and marquee regular season games. He has a plan of resting players and he doesn’t sway from it no matter what. The Spurs aren’t about winning a lot early on if it comes at the expense of losing later.
And the Rockets? There’s not a lot of resting options for them. They’re also not old enough to worry about these kind of things. Winning too much doesn’t exist, especially when it’s not something that takes too much of a toll. In Howard and Harden they have what is possibly the best duo of stars in the NBA. Unlike other years, there seems to have plan and actual defense as well. It’s too soon, obviously, to say how far it can take them, but up to this point no team has been playing better.