Last night, as I mentioned yesterday, was a big night for the Rockets. In their hunt for a playoff spot -- they missed the last two seasons -- they faced Utah at Toyota Center and while the Jazz have not exactly played like world beaters recently, their formidable front line would seem to match up well against the Rockets, particularly with so little experience at power forward. Fortunately, the back-court matchup is worse for the Jazz than the front court is for the Rockets.
James Harden scored 29 and Jeremy Lin scored 24, Beardsanity combining for more than half the team's points, in a 100-93 victory pushing them three games up on the Jazz and securing the always important tie breaker. That tie breaker essentially gives them a four-game lead with only 14 games remaining.
Meanwhile, the Spurs were giving the Rockets an assist by beating Golden State, giving the Warriors the same number of losses as Houston and putting us in a near tie for the sixth playoff spot in the West.
As mentioned, Harden and Lin were what Rockets fans have been expecting from the dynamic duo. Even with a sore ankle, Harden remains one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. He didn't have a single field goal after the midway point of the second quarter, but went 17-18 from the free throw line. Lin played the role of floor general, scoring 24 but dishing 6 assists with only 2 turnovers in 30 minutes of action.
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The Rockets pushed the lead all the way to 26 as late as the third quarter, but the Jazz had it within five in the fourth before the Rockets closed them out.
With three games remaining on this season-long seven-game home stand, Houston is already 3-1 with the below average and banged-up Cavaliers coming to town Friday. The last two games in this home stand feature two of the league's best in the Spurs and Pacers, however.
At this point, the Rockets own the tie breaker with Utah and Golden State. They face the Lakers on the last game of the year at Staples Center, but the hope is they won't need a win to make the playoffs at that point.