The Morning After: Rockets Catch Fire In Fifth Straight Win

The Houston Rockets entered Wednesday night riding a four-game winning streak. You could attribute, like, 70 percent of it to James Harden, and even that feels conservative. While it could be encouraging to see Harden carry the load, it was also a bit frustrating. There were hints of unsustainability to it. At some point, the Bearded One would need the “others” to step up.

Against the Washington Wizards, they did just that.

It may be a little early to say the Rockets are officially back, but their 136-118 win over the Wizards provided a glimpse of that could look like. They were in control for most of the night, creating open looks at the snap of their fingers.

The story of the night was the three-point barrage. You know going in that the Rockets are going to take north of 40 threes; you mostly have to pray that they don’t make them. We’ve seen the Rockets get hot before. It wasn’t that long ago that they torched the San Antonio Spurs for 22 threes at a 41 percent clip in a 33-point victory. On this night, the Rockets knocked down an NBA-record 26 triples, and there really wasn’t anything the Wizards could do about it.

It all started with Harden, who had himself another phenomenal game. The reigning MVP led all scorers with 35 points while also dishing out nine assists. He set the tone with a 13-point explosion in the first quarter, establishing early on that his step-back — the normal one, not the double step-back — was on point:

It was clear that leaving a defender on Harden Island wasn’t going to work, so Washington attempted to mix in different coverages. They tried bringing their “big” higher in pick-and-roll. But that did nothing but open up Houston’s “Spain” action. Here’s Harden hitting Clint Capela on the roll:

A little later, Eric Gordon pops out for an butt-naked-open three out of the same action:

Spain PnR is incredibly difficult to defend because it makes defenses choose between the lesser of two evils. Against “drop” coverage, you’re almost guaranteed to give up the lob or the three if the ball-handler is able to turn the corner. Switching everything is the easiest way to keep guys in front, but Houston is a team you can’t afford to give favorable matchups to. It’s not a surprise that Washington was carved up when they went to it.

With Harden making Washington pay regardless of what they did, it opened up the floor for everyone else. It was a masterful performance on a record-breaking night. Harden is now averaging 38.6 points (52/41/91 shooting split) and 7.8 assists during the streak. It’s hard to argue many — if any — players are performing at a higher level than him right now.

Other Notes

  • Welcome back, Chris Paul! While Harden set the tone with 13-point first, Paul put his stamp on the second quarter by knocking down 3-of-4 three-pointers. You know CP3 is in his bag when he has the side-step three going. It was almost comical watching him operate because you knew what was coming: high screen to force the switch, rhythm between-the-leg dribbles, then cash money falls from the ceiling

  • Don’t look now, but PJ Tucker has quietly found his stroke. He went 3-of-4 from three, and is shooting 51.9 percent (!!!) on 5.4 attempts during the streak. He’s been especially hot from the right corner, connecting on 54.4 percent of his tries.
  • Enjoy Gerald Green while you can. He’s on one of his “can’t miss no matter how dumb the shot attempt is” streaks right now. I still remain skeptical that he’s ever taken an on-balance three in his life.
  • Poor Isaiah Hartenstein couldn’t breathe without hearing a whistle. Four fouls in six minutes is incredibly difficult to pull off.
  • Awful airball aside, I have been pleasantly surprised by Brandon Knight’s minutes. He hasn’t had much issue getting to his spots, which is the important thing with him coming off such a long layoff. There’s obvious rust to knock off, but I’ll happily admit to being wrong if he proves to be a dependable backup point. He seems to be on the right track.
  • I know some may find it cheap, but I was 100% here for Houston’s bench shamelessly going for the record in the last three minutes or so. Danuel House was CHUCKING, buddy. And how about Michael Carter-Williams hitting the record-breaking three? You couldn’t have made that up.

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