Jonas Valanciunas and his Memphis teammates kept getting rebound after rebound. They crushed the Rockets on the offensive glass 22-9. They shot respectably from the three point line when it mattered and had fewer turnovers. The Rockets still blew them out 140-112 on Wednesday night in Toyota Center, leading by as many as 36 points.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 66 points on a combined 24-40 from the floor, 16 rebounds and 11 assists. Harden was 7-12 from distance and Westbrook was an unreal +37 on the court. Tack on Austin Rivers (32); 11 each from Ben McLemore, Jeff Green and Danuel House; and a 10-point-3-block night from Robert Covington, and the whomping was on.
The Grizzlies aren't a good team, so this is a game the Rockets should have won. But as their chemistry improves with this smaller lineup and new players get acclimated, they are starting to look dangerous. They are now 9-2 when playing with a smaller lineup.
As great as Harden and Westbrook were, this team is fun to watch. They play hard, scramble on defense and can absolutely bury a team offensively, much the way the Rockets did two seasons ago when they won a franchise record 65 games. They are starting to have that feel to them.
This was on a night when Eric Gordon missed the game with a bruised right knee. That's just one more weapon at Coach Mike D'Antoni's disposal. And it makes you wonder how he is going to sort it all out. Besides the starters, Rivers, Gordon and McLemore are deserving of minutes. Green and DeMarre Carroll are demonstrating they have roles as well, as does defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha.
It's a good problem to have to be sure and the Rockets are making the most of it. Romps like this allow them to keep starters' minutes down. Harden went only 28, Westbrook 33. Tucker got some much needed rest with 24 minutes. It is the kind of balance most coaches dream of.
The Rockets head on the road to face the Celtics in Boston Sunday before a trip to Madison Square Garden for the awful Knicks. Next Thursday, the Clippers — the team directly in front of the Rockets in the standings — visit Houston. Right now, the Rockets are rolling and facing a couple of good teams seemingly at the right time with small ball working to perfection.
Watching the Grizzlies get rebound after rebound and clearly outsize the Rockets while still being down 30 was telling. Now, the Rockets need to continue to do it against good competition...and it's coming.
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