Rockets 128, Nuggets 110 - Schedule Loss.... Wait, What?

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It’s been quite a week for the Houston Rockets by virtue of a crazy Friday-to-Friday five-game road trip. After handily beating the Kings and the Blazers, the Rockets were blown out by the Utah Jazz. Then, the Rockets played the best game of this young NBA season by impressively (and shockingly) beating the Golden State Warriors in double overtime.

If that wasn’t enough, the Rockets had to end this road trip on a back-to-back in Denver – one of the worst schedule occurrences an NBA team can face. Just ask CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers…

The Rockets showed no signs of fatigue to start this game with Trevor Ariza immediately getting a steal that led to a fastbreak dunk from Clint Capela. Houston then proceeded to blow open a double-digit lead on the back of six combined threes from Ariza and Ryan Anderson, who has been hot as of late. Ariza contributed two more steals and Houston had the energy of a team on several days rest, not just a few hours of sleep. If anything, the Nuggets looked like the team that played a double-overtime thriller the night before. At the end of the first quarter, the Rockets led 42-33.

Fatigue started to settle in for Houston a little bit in the second quarter, and it was especially noticeable on the glass. Denver outrebounded the Rockets 35-27 in the first half, with most of the damage coming in the second quarter thanks to Kenneth Faried absolutely dominating Montrezl Harrell in the paint. After Denver had cut the Rockets lead to 5, Houston went on an 11-2 run and regained control of the game.

The game slowed down considerably due to both teams getting into early foul trouble, which actually helped the Rockets. The Rockets actually hit 16 of their 17 attempts in the first half (they’re averaging 16 made free throws per game).

Despite looking sluggish in the second quarter, the Rockets still managed 73 points in the first half – remarkable, considering what they’ve been through on this excruciating road trip. The Nuggets, led by Wilson Chandler’s 15 points (he finished the game with 24), weren’t able to gain much on the scoreboard as they went into halftime down by 10.

The second half belonged to the Rockets, running Denver out of their own gym. They ratcheted up the defense, forcing 16 turnovers in the game and holding Denver to just under 30% (9/30) from the three point line. On the other hand, the Rockets only committed 11 turnovers (a few of them in garbage time) and hit over 45% of their three point attempts (17/37). Houston won every relevant statistical category, except for rebounds; specifically, offensive rebounds thanks to the Nuggets setting the high mark for any NBA team this season with 23.

Houston had seven players score in double digits, led by James Harden (20), Eric Gordon (18), Ryan Anderson (18), and Sam Dekker (17). Harden also contributed seven assists and six rebounds, Clint Capela notched another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Trevor Ariza recorded 16 points and seven rebounds. This was a total team win, and the back half of a pair of games that will be talked about among Rockets fans for a long, long time to come.

There was a bit of an injury scare towards the end of the game as Trevor Ariza crumbled down to the hardwood in pain. He was immediately met by Houston’s training staff (and his teammates) and, after a few minutes, gingerly walked back to the locker room. ESPN’s Calvin Watkins reports that Ariza left the game with back spasms, a phrase that is sure chill Rockets fans to their very core.

This five-game road trip was the Rockets’ second such road trip of this NBA campaign, and marks the end of a brutal opening stretch that had Houston play away from Toyota Center in 14 of the first 20 games. Needless to say, this was an impressive team win, and now the Rockets find themselves with a home-heavy schedule the next few months (and the majority of this season).

The Rockets will play seven of their next nine games in Houston starting on Monday, when the Boston Celtics make a visit to Toyota Center.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Friday’s game ball goes to Sam Dekker.

The Rockets are coming off what might be the toughest back-to-back on any team’s schedule this season, and they impressed in ways nobody expected. It would be totally fair to give the game ball to the entire team or Head Coach Mike D’Antoni or even General Manager Daryl Morey for putting all of this together. I'm just not going to go there... yet.

This ball is going to Sam Dekker because of his emergence as a pivotal role player for a team that hopes to do big things. He has steadily earned more playing time with each game, even earning crucial crunch time minutes in a tight game against the fear-inducing Golden State Warriors. On Friday, he set a career high in scoring with 17 points (on 54.5% shooting) and is part of this new winning attitude that the Rockets are cultivating.

This Rockets team is not only one of the funnest teams in the league to watch, but have proven their merit as one of the league's best with statement wins amidst a brutal schedule. There's something cooking in Houston, and it's not just James Harden.

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