A night that was about returning and former players began and ended with plenty of smiles for the Houston Rockets, who didn’t need any heroics from James Harden or something special from Jeremy Lin, getting to play as an actual point guard for once en route to an easy yet very important victory.
The 111-81 win over the Phoenix Suns, combined with the losses of the Lakers and Jazz, means Houston are a little bit safer and closer to clinch their first postseason berth since 2009. They’re 7th in the West with a 35-30 record, 1.5 games over the Lakers at 8th and two games above the crashing Jazz at 9th, with Dallas and Portland still seeing themselves as an outside shot sorta teams.
When James Harden needs to take only 7 shots in a game, playing 32 pressure-less minutes, it means it was a good day. The Rockets leading scorer most of the time finished with 18 points, as he led the Rockets to wake up late in the second quarter with a 20-2 run, as the team followed his aggression by not relying as heavily as usual on the three pointer (10-21 from beyond the arc), instead constantly attacking the rim, getting to the line 30 times, compared with just 10 free throw attempts by the Phoenix Suns.
Jeremy Lin had only 26 minutes to play, getting a more respectable backup to take his place this time, as Aaron Brooks makes his return to Houston against another former team of his. Lin had 13 points and 6 assists, while Brooks got only 5 minutes this time, hoping he can overtake Patrick Beverley as the second-unit point guard in the final month of the season, before rotations get a bit shorter when the playoffs begin.
The big star for Houston on the game was their Lithuanian rookie,Donatas Motiejunas, leading the team with 19 points and 5 rebounds, enjoying his best game for the Rockets this season, getting a lot more playing time since the trade deadline. Chandler Parsons, who has been on fire in the last three weeks, settled for 11 points, while Thomas Robinson, enjoying the long stretches of garbage time, got to play 20 minutes, producing 12 points and 7 rebounds.
There was the sentimental part of the game, with both teams having players that have been on both sides. Luis Scola got quite a welcoming after five seasons with the Rockets, giving back 4 points and 4 rebounds for Phoenix. Marcus Morris, traded less than a month ago to Phoenix also started, but finished with 5 points and nothing else. Goran Dragic, who had quite a successful stretch with the Rockets last season, earning him a big contract with the Suns, finished with 11 points and 4 assists. Nothing to make the Rockets really miss their former players, or at least their abilities.
We were moving the ball, sharing the ball. You could look across the statistics and see we had great distribution among the scoring. That’s usually a great sign of transition buckets, as well as sharing the ball offensively.
Lin was right – the Rockets had six players in double figures, with 26 of their 39 field goals being off assists. This team is still about James Harden more than anything else, but little by little we’re learning there’s much more beneath the recognized star power.