Sitting on the bench in the waning moments of the Rockets' 109-94 win over Chicago on Wednesday night, even the injured players -- one of whom may not be a Rocket by this weekend -- were smiling. It was the kind of victory that helps to wipe out some of the bitter taste left after the loss against Sacramento on Sunday. The Bulls are not a great team, losing Derrick Rose for the season yet again, but they do play solid defense. Still, they were unable to stop the best offensive team in the NBA.
This all despite the fact that James Harden re-aggravated his ankle injury early in the game and managed to play through it, while Jeremy Lin (back) and Omer Asik (leg) watched in suits from the bench. With tomorrow as the Rockets' self-imposed deadline to trade Asik, it is possible (likely even) he will no longer be with the team by the time they get to Indianapolis to face the Pacers, the team with the second best record in the NBA, coming off a loss to Miami.
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In fact, Indiana is only the first in what will be a very difficult stretch of games to close out 2013. After the Pacers, they travel to Detroit to play a surprising Pistons team on the second night of a back-to-back. After facing Dallas at home Monday, they go to San Antonio to play on national TV Christmas Day. And if that weren't enough, they play the next night at home against the Grizzlies.
Finally, they face the Thunder, who currently own the NBA's best record, on the road on the second night of a back-to-back before closing out the year New Year's Eve in the Toyota Center in a revenge game against Sacramento.
The really tough schedule should tell us a lot about where the Rockets are. It will help that Dwight Howard has been playing well the past few games and his teammates seem to have finally figured out how to get him the ball. He had 23 against the Bulls on 11-14 shooting, many on dunks.
The big question now is who will be on the roster and who will be healthy come Saturday. It seems almost a given that Asik will be dealt, but could another player go with him? Rumors have been swirling that Jeremy Lin, who is close to returning from back spasms, could be part of a deal that moves Asik. But the Rockets will need every healthy body they can get to close out 2013 and keep winning.