Rockets 112, Raptors 109 - 7th Seed Recaptured

One mood swing after another. It's so fitting that the Rockets followed up three consecutive crushing losses with an exciting win against one of the five or six best teams in the league. The team can pull us in almost as quickly as they can pull us out. It's these flashes of brilliance that make the stale, lackluster rebuttals so disappointing.

Tonight, the Rockets showed up. They brought an impressive amount of energy and the ball was flowing. It's simple.... when the team plays with energy and knows their role on offense, they're deadly.

After getting off to a great start with a plethora of Harden dimes (finished the game with 13), Beasley buckets, Beverley threes, and a 29-21 lead after the first quarter, the Rockets reverted back to their old ways, falling back into that team with an identity issue.  Dwight Howard grew frustrated, and tried to force his way out of a bad individual performance with post ups, which can be fine at times. The problem is when he hunts for post touches is that he has a very bad feel for when to battle for position. Dwight’s constantly seen battling for position and clogging the paint while the team runs some sort of alternative action. Whether it be a dribble handoff, a pick and roll, or even an isolation off of a switch, you can catch clogging the paint. The second quarter had a lot of this and the 3 point deficit at halftime was earned.

JB Bickerstaff deserves a lot of credit for this game. Houston allowed far too much middle penetration on defense for the first 24 minutes and they came out aggressively trapping every pick and roll in the second half. This timely adjustment frustrated Toronto's dynamic backcourt resulting in an ejection for both Lowry and DeRozan. Perhaps the biggest adjustment of the game was when Capela and Dwight were both in foul trouble, Bickerstaff decided to play a lineup of Terry-Beverley-Brewer-Harden with Beasley at the 5. While Rocket fans silently panicked waiting for this lineup to disastrously blow up in Bickerstaff’s face, it never did. The lineup was tenacious on defense and played much better defense than one would expect, making a key run to take AND extend the lead.

Harden couldn't have been much better and the 32-13-11 line speaks for itself. It's hard to overstate how good he's been since the All Star break. His defense has improved tremendously, and he's been setting up his teammates about as well as he ever has.

The unsung heroes of tonight deserve a huge amount of credit, they helped provide the spark required in a game where Dwight just didn't have it. If I had told you the Rockets won a game where Dwight had 2 points and 5 rebounds, you probably would have slapped me, but here we are.

Patrick Beverley's defense on Lowry was pretty great, and dished 5 assists with 6 3s. His shooting is invaluable for Harden. He needs to be on the floor as long as Harden is.

While D-Mo only played 15 minutes, he was super productive. He's rounding back into shape. Unless he's under a minutes restriction, he should probably play more. It feels like JB forgets about him sometimes. D-Mo often subs out 6 minutes into the second half only to never return to action regardless of his performance.

Beasley's efficient chucking continued tonight, with 21 points in 28 minutes. I'm still waiting for his efficiency to fall off a cliff, but it never does, he'd be one of the best midseason steals of all time. If the Rockets loved defense as much as Beasley loves scoring (Which seems impossible), the Rockets probably wouldn't be in this struggle to get into the playoffs.

The Rockets managed to recapture the 7th seed from the Mavericks with this win and are on track to gain a half game lead on Dallas as we speak (Golden State holds a 10-PT lead over Dallas in the 4th quarter at home in Oracle). 

All in all, this was a damn good win. Maybe even a great one. But if we know this team, they'll follow it up with a crushing defeat, because Rockets.

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