Don't look now, but the team no one can see on Houston TV is looking pretty damn good right about now. Winning their fourth game in a row, which included routs over the Knicks and the Grizzlies, the Rockets beat one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Chicago Bulls, by 23, at one point leading by as many as 35. They scored more points against the Bulls than any team has in the three years since former Rockets assistant Tom Thibodeau, a brilliant defensive strategist, took over as the head coach in Chicago.
In his return to Chicago since signing with Houston, center Omer Asik had 20 points (9-13 shooting), 18 rebounds and 3 blocks. The backcourt continued its outstanding play with James Harden and Jeremy Lin combining for 46 points and 17 assists (11 from Lin) on a blistering 60 percent shooting. Chandler Parsons chipped in 23, including 4-5 from three point range.
This was also an important game of note because it was the first nationally televised game for the Rockets and was not blacked out locally, meaning cable subscribers without access to Comcast SportsNet Houston, which still is not available on U-verse, DirecTV and Dish Network, got a glimpse at the young Rockets who moved to 15-12 on the season.
What has been most impressive about this recent run is the offensive explosion. The Rockets are leading the NBA in scoring at over 105 points per game. They have averaged 118 in their four wins, hitting 120 in three of them, including games against two of the best defensive squads in the league -- the Grizzlies are the number one defensive team in the NBA and Chicago is number three.
Most of the damage has come from the starters, particularly the backcourt. While Lin has had fits and starts since joining the team, he is on a roll lately. In the four wins, Lin is averaging 18 points and 9 assists while shooting 59 percent from the floor despite a still awful showing from behind the three-point line. He is getting to the basket with regularity and displaying some of the quickness that lit up Madison Square Garden last season.
Harden just keeps trucking, averaging nearly 30 points per game over the last four, but the big shocker has been Asik. In Chicago, the center was a backup and a very solid weak side defender, but never got much of an opportunity to demonstrate any kind of offensive consistency. He is averaging nearly 11 points and just over 11 rebounds per game. That rebounding number ranks him fifth in the NBA.
It's been an impressive run for the Rockets, but they still need to improve. They have been blistering teams with the fast break and with getting into their offensive sets quickly, but they still live and die too often with three pointers -- they lead the league in both attempts and makes. The result can be brilliant wins and stunningly awful losses. They also must improve their transition defense. Teams that don't run like the Bulls make for good matchups, but they struggle against teams that like to get up and down the floor as they do.
They also need to figure out how to win within their conference or find a way to move to the east. They are only 4-10 in conference, but an astonishing 11-2 against the east.
Their schedule continues to be challenging, with a home back-to-back game tonight against Minnesota at Toyota Center -- a dangerous team that finally appears healthy with Ricky Rubio back. They follow that up with another home and away back-to-back against San Antonio and then in Oklahoma City, two of the best teams in the NBA. They will need to continue their scoring pace if they want to continue the winning streak.
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