Rockets 118, Lakers 95 - Cruise Control

The Houston Rockets are on cruise control. The Los Angeles Lakers may have put the screws to the Golden State Warriors the other day and forced them into overtime, but had no such luck against the Rockets. The Lakers started out hot, as every team seems to against the Rockets, but were toast by the end of the third quarter. The biggest question left at the end of this game is, "why didn't the starters leave the game sooner," and that uneventful state is the best case scenario for the Rockets.

The formula for Rockets games is simple. They are a top team with an elite playmaker on the floor at all times. They play fairly quickly and they leverage their advantages by shooting a lot of high-percentage, high-point-value shots. There will always be ups and downs, but the Rockets gamble that at the end of the day the ups will outweigh the downs if they just keep the pressure on.

So far, that's proven to be a brilliant gamble.

Every game includes peaks and troughs, such as the first 15 minutes of tonight's game, in which the Rockets couldn't buy a bucket. The Rockets kept at it, however and eventually the dam broke, as it always does. In the second half, the pressure became too great, the scoring was too unstoppable, and the Rockets blew out another team. That's just life with James Harden and Chris Paul on the same team.

Harden was great, as ever. He scored 36 in as many minutes and logged 4 rebounds and 9 assists to boot. Chris Paul only dished 6 dimes, but made up for it with 21 points, 4 boards and a pair of steals. Eric Gordon was the third hero tonight, ending the game with 22 points, matching the Lakers' high-scoring man, Kyle Kuzma.

The Rockets are so good that their only problem is that James Harden is playing between 35 and 36 minutes a night when they could probably move to garbage time a couple minutes sooner. In this particular game, the lead was hovering just under 20 for the last several minutes of the game, and head coach Mike D'antoni waited until a mere pair of minutes remained before pulling his starters. Perhaps D'antoni is (justifiably) worried that the garbage squad can lose any lead in three minutes. Perhaps he wants to preserve their point differential in order to have advanced stat bragging right. Perhaps Harden just wants to play enough minutes to get MVP-caliber stats every night. Whatever the case, it remains puzzling.

The outcome of these games, however, is not puzzling. The Rockets are better than almost every team. Only a small cadre of opponents even move the needle. Perhaps this might get old after a few years. Right now, however, the Rockets seem to be having a good time beating everyone.

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