Rockets 104, Pelicans 101 - HOUSE!

By Forrest Walker on December 29, 2018

The Houston Rockets are sick of losing. James Harden is sick of not being in the MVP conversation. Danuel House is sick of not being the greatest player in Houston Rockets history. Tonight, the Rockets showed their devotion to all of the above as they outlasted the New Orleans Pelicans in a game that mostly wasn't as close as the final score implied.

James Harden scored 41, his third game in a row of at least 40 points, and ninth in a row with at least 30. For those who are unsure, that's good. His 7-17 shooting from deep is also very good. His 9 rebounds and 6 assists are great. His 3 steals and 2 blocks are awesome. (His 7 turnovers were also exceptional in a very different fashion. We already knew it, but James Harden is the real deal. He was assumed to be basically disqualified from the MVP race this season, but the last month of play from Harden is knocking on the door with a military-grade battering ram. He even said directly that he feels he should be the MVP yet again, and this type of play is the best way to ensure that reality bends to his will.

As a nice added benefit, the Rockets have won four in a row and nine of their last ten. During that time they've climbed from 14th in the west to currently occupying the fifth seed, though a Portland Trail Blazers win tonight would push them back to sixth, but pull them within a staggering single loss of the Golden State Warriors. For the degree of difficulty on this bizarre season, the sheer amount of struggle and recrimination the Rockets have met, this position is ludicrous in the extreme. In a season in which nothing makes sense whatsoever, the Rockets have gone from dead and buried to chasing down a top seed, much of which while Chris Paul sits on the sideline with a hamstring injury.

All that being said, do not be surprised in injuries or other concerns suddenly derail this latest (sixth? seventh?) new identity of the Houston Rockets this season. Both Danuel House and Eric Gordon left the game with injuries, though House later returned. Gordon bumped knees, and will be re-evaluated before the next game. With James Ennis set to return on Monday, Gordon's knee may be making the decision of whose minutes Ennis will take for the immediate future. With Chris Paul already hurt, the Rockets can scarcely afford anyone to get injured.

Unless... they can? They've looked mighty in the time Chris Paul has missed and tonight Houston's non-Harden guard play got a significant boost from two surprising figures: Danuel House and Austin Rivers. Rivers has been a revelation since his signing, going for 10 points, 5 rebounds and 7(!) assists in 37 minutes. He's playing starters' minutes and behaving like one to boot. It was in large part through his floor management that they Rockets were able to weather Chris Paul's absence, and his ability to play actual NBA point while Harden sits has been invaluable.

Joining him is new Best Rockets Player Ever Danuel House Jr. He played 32 minutes, scored 15 points, hit 3 of his 5 threes, grabbed 4 boards and was in general a gamer out there. Oh, and he hit a buzzer beater three while falling out of bounds, which is the most Houston Rockets type activity I can think of, and has him fiercely competing with Gerald Green for Rockets diehard fan favorite at the moment. He's been great since his signing and if he can improve over time, will be an excellent pickup on the cheap for a Rockets roster that badly needs promising young talent going forward.

Houston's bench is night and day since they were unable to hold onto any lead earlier this season, and at this point are even respectable. Even on a night when the Rockets forgot how to shoot threes for vast stretches of the game, they kept pulling it back to a double digit lead. It was a close game at the end, but this was a very late development as the Rockets flagged a bit after they had all but sewn it up. There were some causes for concern, as with any game one doesn't win by 20, but no red flags. It's a vastly different Rockets team we're seeing than the team who was under .500 well into the season. Now we just have to hope that these Rockets stick around and they don't rebrand again into something worse.

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