Are the Houston Rockets for Real This Time?
We’ve been lulled into this trap before by Mike D’Antoni and his teams over the years. His high octane, seven seconds or less mentality is what drew me to move my family out to Phoenix for three season back in the mid-2000s. Now he’s playing with Rocket fuel … and playing for a new contract with the Houston Rockets as a lame duck.
But how lame is 11-3, second in the Western Conference, right on the heels of the Los Angeles Lakers?
There was rampant doubt and speculation about how the team was going to assimilate an extreme talent, but hotheaded turnover machine like Russell Westbrook into the mix. I, included, thought it could be a recipe for disaster and thought we’d seen the last of Mr. Triple Double. While Luka Doncic and LeBron James fight over that mantle, Westbrook quietly posted one of the best of his season last night with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Never mind that James Harden is once again leading the NBA in scoring at 39.2 points per game, taking a break with 36 last night, and far and away the leader in the league with 68 three pointers made thus far; the closest to him in three pointers in Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham with 49 makes and his closest threat for points per game is Milwaukee’s MVP, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, with a 30.3 ppg average.
The Rockets just came off their eighth consecutive win, over Portland, and show no signs of slowing down. About the only thing hampering them is talk of moving Clint Capela, which may just be #FakeNews at this point. I hope so. The kid is having the season of his career. He’s fifth in the league in rebounding at 13.1, but pulled down 20 just last night along with a season high 22 points. Capela is shooting at a 64.2 percent clip, third in the league, just 0.4 off of nipping second place Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies, and Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who is at 68.8 percent.
Why mess with what’s not broken? Leave Clint alone and let him flourish.
P.J. Tucker is also reaping benefits from the Harden-Westbrook tandem, besting his career averages with 9.9 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in his 10th season in the league. Also, once Eric Gordon returns from successful arthroscopic surgery (around Christmas), the Rockets should have a full complement and be ready for the remaining two thirds of the season.
Daryl Morey needs to sit back and enjoy this ride with the rest of us. The cynics will still believe it will implode at some point, and I keep one eye open along with them. But the beauty is in the evolution … and Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets are doing something Mike D’Antoni’s Nuggets, Suns, Lakers and Knicks never did – they’re playing defense.
You can teach an old dog new tricks.
Here’s to your next contract, Mike.
Reach for the stars. Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.
Oh yeah, there were nine games last night …
Cavs Win Streak at Madison Square Garden Halted
|Cleveland Cavaliers (4-9)||105|
|New York Knicks (4-10)||123|
New York, New York – Despite having six players score in double digits, the Cleveland Cavaliers found a way to lose to the New York Knicks last night. Kevin Porter, Jr. broke out last night leading the Cavs with 18 points, four rebounds and two assists, while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor. Collin Sexton and Alfonzo McKinnie both added 14 points to the cause, Jordan Clarkson had 13 and Brandon Knight had 12, while Darius Garland rounded out the scoring with 10 in the loss. Prior to last night, the Cavaliers had won their last 11 games at Madison Square Garden.
New York was led once again with its beefed up frontcourt. Julius Randle called his own number with 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Marcus Morris chimed in with 23 and six, R.J. Barrett had 15, and Damyean Dotson finished with 11 on the night. New York never trailed in this game and took a 13 point advantage into the locker room with them at the half. They forced the Cavs into nine turnovers in the first half to their zero.
PTS: Kevin Porter, Jr. – 18
REB: Cedi Osman – 8
AST: Jordan Clarkson – 4
PTS: Julius Randle – 30
REB: Taj Gibson – 8
AST: Frank Ntilikina – 6
Cavaliers at Heat – Wednesday
Knicks at Sixers – Wednesday
There’s No Place Like Brooklyn for the Holidays
|Indiana Pacers (8-6)||115|
|Brooklyn Nets (5-8)||86|
Brooklyn, New York – Everywhere you go, you see – year after year – places lighting it up for the holidays earlier and earlier every year. Walmart. Macy’s. Even the Barclays Center had the Holidays going earlier than usual. Usually, there’s no place like home for the Holidays – but since Aaron Holiday and Justin Holiday were in Brooklyn last night, they lit things up there, at the Nets’ expense. Aaron led the scoring and rebounding with 24 and 13, while brother Justin chipped in 20 in the Pacers’ 29 point win. T.J. Warren had 19, Domantas Sabonis went for 16 and 18 on the night, while Naz Mitrou-Long contributed a dozen on 50 percent shooting.
The Nets are a disappointing 5-8 after last night’s loss, with Spencer Dinwiddie shouldering most of the load. Dinwiddie would finish with 28 points, five rebounds and eight assists, as the Nets played without the services of Kyrie Irving for the second straight game, due to an injured shoulder. Jarrett Allen and Garrett Temple finished with 10 points apiece, while Allen also had 12 rebounds. Brooklyn only shot 35 percent in their own house.
PTS: Aaron Holiday – 24
REB: Domantas Sabonis – 18
AST: Aaron Holiday – 13
PTS: Spencer Dinwiddie – 28
REB: Jarrett Allen – 12
AST: Spencer Dinwiddie – 8
Hornets at Nets – Wednesday
Magic at Pacers – Saturday
A 36 Point Win is Better Than a Poke in the Eye
|Charlotte Hornets (6-8)||96|
|Toronto Raptors (9-4)||132|
Toronto, Ontario – It’s usually the Charlotte Hornets with all the buzz, but last night up North, they ran into a buzzsaw, as the Toronto Raptors carved out a 36 point win at ScotiaBank Arena. Seven Raptors took turns scoring on Charlotte, who’s been somewhat of a surprise in their division. O.G. Anunoby led all scorers with a career high 24 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Pascal Siakam finished with 20, eight and five, shooting 50 percent from the floor. Norman Powell had 17 and six, Terence Davis with 16 and seven, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson finished with 15 and eight, while Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet had 11 apiece. Boucher also had 11 rebounds. Anunoby was poked in the eye again, the second time in four games. Toronto outscored Charlotte 32-18 in the third quarter to smoke the Hornets out.
Charlotte’s output was nominal at best, like most hornets in the winter months. No disrespect to Marvin Williams, but when Marvin Williams is leading the Hornets in scoring with 14 and four, something’s amiss. Miles Bridges and Bismack Biyombo added 13 apiece, and Devonte’ Graham was quiet with 11 points and six assists.
PTS: Marvin Williams – 14
REB: Nicolas Batum – 6
AST: Devonte’ Graham – 6
PTS: O.G. Anunoby – 24
REB: Chris Boucher – 11
AST: Marc Gasol – 9
Hornets at Nets – Wednesday
Magic at Raptors – Wednesday
Deja Vu for Milwaukee-Chicago
|Milwaukee Bucks (10-3)||115|
|Chicago Bulls (4-10)||101|
Chicago, Illinois – Didn’t we just do this in Milwaukee a couple of nights ago? This whole idea of beating the Bulls is old hat, even without Khris Middleton. Giannis Antetokuonmpo took his MVP Show on the road last night, defeating the Bulls in Chicago for the second time in the last five days. The Bulls lost by nine in Milwaukee last Thursday night. Last night, it was by 14 as Antetokuonmpo finished with a game high 33 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and three steals to run the Bucks up to 10 wins, three losses. Brook Lopez finished with 19 and 10, George Hill had 18, and Donte DiVincenzo rounded things out with 15, four and four. It was Milwaukee’s fourth straight win.
Former Arkansas Razorback and No. 38 pick Daniel Gafford led the Bulls with 21 points and five rebounds, Coby White added 13, Ryan Arcidiacono dropped 12, and Zach LaVine finished with 11, eight and four in the loss, Chicago’s 10th of the season. The silver lining was the 63 points that Chicago got from its bench.
PTS: Giannis Antetokuonmpo – 33
REB: Giannis Antetokuonmpo – 10, Brook Lopez 10
AST: Sterling Brown – 6
PTS: Daniel Gafford – 21
REB: Lauri Markkanen – 8, Wendell Carter, Jr. – 8, Zach LaVine – 8
AST: Kris Dunn – 9
Bucks at Hawks – Wednesday
Pistons at Bulls – Wednesday
Rockets Launch the Blazers into Outer Darkness
|Portland Trailblazers (5-9)||108|
|Houston Rockets (11-3)||132|
Houston, Texas – The Houston Rockets made it difficult on the Portland Trailblazers last night, as the team that went to the Western Conference Finals and got shut out 0-4 has never really seemed to recover. It didn’t help that the Rockets knocked them out of any orbit they were trying to form in the 24 point win, despite Portland having seven players reach double figures. One of them was not Carmelo Anthony, who has yet to suit up for the Blazers.
James Harden led all scorers with 36, six and five on the night. Russell Westbrook posted a nice triple double with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Westbrook was also a beast on the defensive glass, with 10 defensive rebounds to go along with Clint Capela’s 15 defensive boards. Capela also had 22 points and 20 rebounds. P.J. Tucker added 13 points and Danuel House, Jr. finished with 11 and six. It was Westbrook’s third triple double of the season.
For Portland, it was C.J. McCollum leading the show with 25 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Skal Labissiere had 15 points, Damian Lillard finished with 13, six and 11, while Nassir Little, Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore all chipped in 11 points apiece.
PTS: C.J. McCollum – 25
REB: Hassan Whiteside – 8
AST: Damian Lillard – 11
PTS: James Harden – 36
REB: Clint Capela – 20
AST: Russell Westbrook – 10
Blazers at Pelicans – Tonight
Rockets at Nuggets – Wednesday
Spurs Officially on a Slide with Sixth Straight Loss
|San Antonio Spurs (5-9)||110|
|Dallas Mavericks (8-5)||117|
Dallas, Texas – No one, and I mean no one, likes to see a class organization like the San Antonio Spurs skid like they’re skidding right now. It’s almost like one of those horrific accidents yo see spin out of control on the 635 right before your eyes – you’re fascinated and horrified at the same time, but there’s nothing you can do. The driver swerving in and out of traffic erratically was Luka Doncic, who dominated almost every statistic for the Dallas Mavericks last night, with another triple double performance of 42 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. The victims were the San Antonio Spurs. Dorian Finney-Smith added 22 and five, while Kristaps Porzingis finished the night with 18 and 10. Jalen Brunson added 11 points. It was Doncic’s sixth triple double this season in just 13 games, and he sits in good company; he and LeBron James are the youngest to have triple doubles in 40+ point games.
San Antonio could only muster 36 points, eight rebounds and four assists from DeMar DeRozan. LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 and nine, while Bryn Forbes finished with 13 and two. Patty Mills, Jakob Poeltl, and Rudy Gay never even cracked the double digit barrier, netting only nine points apiece. Poeltl had 10 rebounds.
PTS: DeMar DeRozan – 36
REB: Jakob Poeltl – 10
AST: DeMar DeRozan – 4
PTS: Luka Doncic – 42
REB: Luka Doncic – 11
AST: Luka Doncic – 12
Spurs at Wizards – Wednesday
Warriors at Mavericks – Wednesday
C’s Get 99 Again, This Time It’s Enough
|Boston Celtics (11-2)||99|
|Phoenix Suns (7-5)||85|
Phoenix, Arizona – For the second consecutive game, the Boston Celtics net 99 points, but last night it was enough to get by the setting Suns, as Boston got right back on the winning track with the 14 point win. The first place team in the Eastern Conference was led by Jayson Tatum’s 26 point, 11 rebound, three assist performance in the win. Kemba Walker had 19 points and five assists, Marcus Smart added 17, Jaylen Brown finished with 14 and nine, and it was 10 points and six dimes from Brad Wanamaker. Boston went on a 20-4 run to end the second quarter and distance themselves from the Suns.
Phoenix, who started the season hotter than the blazes, has cooled off and the Suns are setting of late. Devin Booker finished with a moderate 20 points on seven of 13 shooting, and Kelly Oubre, Jr. was the only other player in double digits for the Suns, with 15 points and six rebounds. Both teams shot poorly, the Celtics edging Phoenix by a percentage point at 42 percent to 41 percent, respectively.
PTS: Jayson Tatum – 26
REB: Jayson Tatum – 11, Daniel Thies – 11
AST: Brad Wanamaker – 6
PTS: Devin Booker – 20
REB: Dario Saric – 10
AST: Aron Baynes – 5
Suns at Kings – Tonight
Celtics at Clippers – Wednesday
Wolves Take Game One of Back to Back, Home and Home
|Minnesota Timberwolves (8-6)||112|
|Utah Jazz (8-5)||102|
Salt Lake City, Utah – The Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz play each other twice this week – last night in Salt Lake, and again on Wednesday back in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves came in and nipped the Jazz last night behind a strong performance from Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished with a game high 29 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, and a career high seven three pointers. Jeff Teague added 21 points and 11 assists, Robert Covington chipped in 15 and eight, Kelan Martin added 14 and six, and Josh Okogie finished with 11 and five. Andrew Wiggins did not play.
For Utah, it was uneventful as Bojan Bogdanovic had a humble 18 points and six rebounds to lead the Jazz. Donovan Mitchell had 17 on five of 24 shooting and seven rebounds, Rudy Gobert hit for 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Mike Conley finished up with 15, six and six. Joe Ingles had 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and Jeff Green came off the bench for 11 and four.
PTS: Karl-Anthony Towns – 29
REB: Karl-Anthony Towns – 13
AST: Jeff Teague – 11
PTS: Bojan Bogdanovic – 18
REB: Rudy Gobert – 14
AST: Mike Conley – 6
Jazz at Timberwolves – Wednesday
Clippers Lay Up on Thunder
|Oklahoma City Thunder (5-8)||88|
|Los Angeles Clippers (9-5)||90|
Los Angeles, California – What is it with the Los Angeles Clippers and their new stars laying back and taking it easy on their former teams? First it was Kawhi Leonard duffing it against the visiting Toronto Raptors back on Veterans Day with a ‘cure for insomnia’ 98-88 win, with Leonard sandbagging it against his former team with a 12 point night. Last night, Paul George deferred to Montrezl Harrell as George laid back with an 18 point night in his third game as a Los Angeles Clipper. Harrell, The Beast, led all scorers with 28 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. George got 18, seven and four. Ivica Zubac had 12 and 10, while Lou Williams was unusually quiet with 11 points.
Former Clippers Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander combined for 47 of Oklahoma’s points, so I guess the question is who was taking it easy on who in the narrow L.A. win? CP3 led the Thunder with 22 points, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Gallinari finished with 14 and five, while Dennis Schroder had 12 and four, and Gilgeous-Alexander had 11 on the night. Steven Adams finished with nine and 10 for Oklahoma City.
PTS: Chris Paul – 22
REB: Steven Adams – 10
AST: Steven Adams – 6
PTS: Montrezl Harrell – 28
REB: Montrezl Harrell – 12
AST: Lou Williams – 9
Thunder at Lakers – Tonight
Celtics at Clippers – Wednesday
TONIGHT’S GAMES/MY PICK ‘EM
Portland Trailblazers at New Orleans Pelicans – 8 p.m. EST – NBATV
Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies – 8 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Southeast
Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings – 10 p.m. EST – NBC Sports California
Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers – 10:30 p.m. EST – NBATV
*** The Rundown w/T-Money is a daily column “all things NBA” that will run through the entirety of the season, and the playoffs through the NBA Finals ***
Tracy Graven is a Senior Analyst for BackSportsPage.com. He has written the NBA for the last two decades and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage. He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in Orlando, Boise (G League), San Antonio, Phoenix, and Oklahoma City. He currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife and five children.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia
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