Obviously missing Dwight Howard is a blow to the Houston Rockets, but they still have James Harden, who with all his flaws is one of those players who can win games almost single-handedly , leading his team to a 95-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks with an impressive one man show in the closing minutes.
The Mavericks held a four point lead with less than a minute left to play, but Harden made two free throws, Monta Ellis missed on the other end and Harden put the Rockets in the lead with a jump shot and another free throw. He actually made a huge defensive play, stripping the ball off of Ellis to secure the win, setting up a couple of free throws by Trevor Ariza to close out the win.
Dwight Howard not playing is mostly a pain on the defensive side. The Rockets with Howard are the best in the NBA when it comes to defensive efficiency, allowing only 90 points per 100 possessions compared to over 100 when he’s off the court. With his injury and possible legal problems keeping him off the court, the Rockets are adjusting, and finally getting the defensive beast out of their best player, someone who is often criticized for being one of the worst players on that side of the ball in this league.
Harden finished with 32 points, while shooting 4-of-9 from beyond the arc and hitting 12-of-13 from the line, efficient and plentiful as always. Patrick Beverley was quite helpful with 20 points on 6-of-11 from three-point range, as the Mavericks struggled covering the perimeter despite the Rockets having one less inside threat for them to worry about. The Rockets attempted 46 3-pointers, making only 5-of-26 excluding Beverley and Harden.
Both teams shot poorly, and the Mavericks hit only 39.8% of their shots. It was one of those games in which Dirk Nowitzki can’t get anything to fall from him, including a 3-pointer in the final seconds. Ellis also had a chance, but his finish, with the misses and the turnovers, is probably a big reason of why the Mavericks lost the game. He led the team with 17 points, but he and Nowitzki (11 points) combined to shoot just 11-of-39 from the field. The Mavs were a terrible 6-of-35 from beyond the arc, as both teams combined to shoot 81 3-pointers.
Despite the Rockets not playing with the anchor on their defense, they kept their reputation (statistically at least) of the best defense in the NBA, shutting down the best offense in the league up to this point. Trevor Ariza had a weak night with just 7 points and 20% shooting, but his presence, as opposed to Chandler Parsons on the other team, makes the Rockets better. It might have been a point of discussion when the offseason was heating up with Morey-hate, but while Harden is calling the shots on the floor, it’s better to have someone like Ariza than Parsons.
Speaking of Parsons, playing for the first time against his former team, he finished with 8 points, also struggling to get any kind of rhythm. With the Rockets at 10-3 and the Mavs at 10-4, it’s hard to say he has made the wrong decision by going to Dallas, but the Rockets are doing quite well without him, and the doom & gloom prophecies of the offseason are proving to be very very wrong. It turns out there’s life even after missing out on so many targets.