In the fourth game of a four-game road trip in Miami Thursday night, no one would have faulted the Rockets for losing. The Heat are a tough matchup for Houston and the Rockets got into Miami early Wednesday morning after playing in Brooklyn the night before. They were clearly tired and missing two starters (Trevor Ariza still out with a hamstring strain and Ryan Anderson with an ankle sprain) and their best bench player (Eric Gordon is still nursing a stiff back).
Yet, James Harden and Chris Paul, the team's marquee superstars, handled the pressure and buried the Heat down the stretch in a barrage of offense. Harden had 41, the eighth time he has done that, twice as many times as the next guy on the list. Paul racked up 24 points, 7 assists
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In other years, this would probably have been a game the Rockets conceded rather than lost, but they seem unwilling to give in to the grind of the NBA and the injuries that come with it. They have only lost twice in their last 15 games, a stretch that included Portland, Minnesota, Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and these Miami Heat twice. They are now only a half-game back of the Warriors for the best record in the NBA and even in the loss column.
It probably comes as no surprise that they didn't make any trades at the NBA deadline on Thursday, despite a number of wild deals involving teams like the Cavs, Knicks
Still, there is a chance that players bought out by their teams like Joe Johnson could make attractive late-season signings. Johnson, in particular, would provide another ball handler and yet another quality shooter. But even with no further moves, the Rockets, barring injury, appear set for a deep playoff run.
The four games remaining before the All-Star break include a pair of home games against the somewhat dangerous Nuggets and lowly Mavericks. But, they finish the week with back-to-back travel games in Minnesota and home for awful Kings. That Kings game would appear to be a trap for any other team — the last night of a road-weary mid-season grind before a long break — but the Rockets proved in Miami they aren't that team. And that they don't need help from trades to be one of the best in the league.