The Rockets faced a depleted Lakers squad missing three key players including Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard Tuesday night at Toyota Center in a classic trap game. The first game of yet another five-games-in-four-nights stretch for the Rockets against a very short-handed team makes for situation Coach Kevin McHale openly worried about. For the first 30 minutes or so, he was right to be concerned before Houston turned on the jets and coasted to a 125-112 victory.
The Lake Show led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter with the young Rockets coming out sluggish and turning the ball over far too much. But a 38-26 surge in the third quarter turned things around for good and shut the door on the disappointing Lakers who have lost four in a row and started a rookie at center for only the fourth time in franchise history.
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The Rockets on the other hand have won five in a row and 10 of their last 12 losing only back-to-back games against the Spurs and Thunder, two of the best teams in the Western Conference.
In this one, it was the backcourt that set the tone, though mostly in the second half. James Harden continued his ridiculous streak of 25-point games, scoring 31 and stretching that streak to 13, which ties a franchise record set by Moses Malone. He also helped to keep Kobe Bryant from extending his own streak of 25-point games. Bryant scored 20 snapping his streak at 17.
Jeremy Lin, like the rest of the team, started slow but adjusted and scored 11 of his 19 points in the pivotal third quarter, getting to the rim and showing a few moves reminiscent of the Linsanity stretch last year in New York. Chandler Parsons was the steadying force in the first half that kept the Rockets in it scoring 20 and Carlos Delfino came off the bench hitting five three pointers and scoring 19 in 23 minutes of action.
Now, they head on the road for three winnable games, two against the east, a conference they have absolutely manhandled this season. Then, it gets trickier with a visit from the dynamic LA Clippers followed by games against Dallas, Indiana and Minnesota. They finish the month with two games against Denver and one each against Utah and New Jersey, mixed in with Charlotte and a trip to New Orleans as they head towards February and the All Star break. Since the Rockets have been good against lesser opponents and the east, but not terribly good against contenders, this stretch should tell us a lot about their development as a young team.