The Houston Rockets escaped a tight situation with the Orlando Magic in a 107-94 win despite a bad shooting game from James Harden, who had the help of quite a few teammates along the way and especially Donatas Motiejunas.
A power forward with some very nice moves down low, Motiejunas scored 23 points and grabbed 7 rebounds to lead the Rockets, entering the fourth quarter behind by one point but doing very well to erase that deficit in the early goings of the fourth quarter. Terrence Jones started on the bench so Joey Dorsey could contribute 7 minutes of rebounding and some defense, Trevor Ariza kept his good form going with 17 points and Josh Smith had a very good performance off the bench as well with 16 points.
Harden himself scored 17 points, almost half of them (8-of-11) from the free throw line. He grabbed 8 rebounds and finished with 3 steals in another one of those games when it’s actually still surprising to see him giving a damn on defense, although that’s not new for a player who has changed the perception of his playing style this season for the better.
If the Houston Rockets are going to be a team that’s taken seriously as a championship contender, what we’re seeing right now from James Harden has to continue. Sure, it’s more impressive when he scores 35 points and puts up numbers we consider as “MVP worthy” as if being an MVP means putting up triple doubles all the time. Sometimes, the best players on the best teams do things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Harden willing to share the spotlight has been a big issue in how the Rockets have been hanging on despite the injury to Dwight Howard.
Sure, 4-of-14 from the field isn’t such a great number, but Harden stopped when he saw things weren’t working. He came into the game during the fourth quarter with the Rockets leading by four points. He didn’t force himself on the game as he would have in the past. He played the point guard or even off the ball guard very well, something he wasn’t willing to do in the past, clearing the way for other players to carry on with the work of making it an even bigger lead.
The Rockets are chasing the Blazers (pretty much neck and neck), Grizzlies and Warriors. They might not have home court advantage for more than one series, but it feels like this team is much better equipped than in the past to handle the pressures of the playoffs. A superstar, but one that’s willing to make sacrifices, while the players around him are better or at least more compatible than ever, while everyone is waiting for Howard to come back so this team has a center again.