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Game Day: Rockets at Nuggets

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 123-116 loss to the Denver Nuggets

  • Rockets vs. Nuggets
    Randy Foye records 30 points and 15 assists, Kenneth Faried adds 23 points as the Nuggets defeat the Rocket.
  • Rockets vs. Nuggets: First Half
    Kenneth Faried has 19 points, Timofey Mozgov is adding 18 points as the Nuggets lead the Rockets by 10 at the half.

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

It wasn’t much of a surprise given the circumstances (the formula from today’s preview: fatigue + altitude = negative fun – was no joke), but the Rockets began tonight’s game with a distinct lack of pace, tempo and anything even remotely approaching the energy necessary to deal with the dreaded Denver back-to-back. Chandler Parsons picked up two fouls in the first four minutes. Houston began the contest by hitting just three of its first 16 shots from the field. It missed its first 10 attempts from beyond the arc. Pretty much across the board, every Rockets player began the game moving in slow motion, almost as if their shoes had been caked in mud beforehand.

You know who wasn’t lacking for energy, however? The Manimal. As is his wont, Kenneth Faried was a blur right from the opening tip, repeatedly beating the Rockets down the floor which led to an assortment of fast break dunks and layups. In the blink of an eye, Denver had built itself a sizable 30-11 lead and Houston looked like it was well on its way to becoming the latest club to fall victim to the Nuggets’ unique home-court advantage (Over the last five seasons, Denver is 54-11 at home against opponents who had played the previous day).

But then the second quarter began and Jeremy Lin went supernova. Use any superlative you wish, the stark truth was that Lin singlehandedly kept Houston from facing a 20-point (or worse) deficit by halftime. Despite beginning the game as listlessly as many of his teammates (the Rockets’ starting point guard was scoreless in the first quarter while missing all three of his shots), Lin was very nearly flawless in the second period. All told, he hit each and every one of his six field attempts in the quarter, including a 4-of-4 mark from 3-point land, racking up 18 points in the process. Only a single, solitary turnover marred an otherwise perfect period for J-Lin.

And his explosion was absolutely essential for Houston given that James Harden was in the midst of a rare off night (0-for-5 from the field at halftime, though he did have five assists and, naturally, six made free throws) and the rest of the Rockets only connected on two of their 16 shots from downtown during the first half. But largely thanks to Lin, Houston recorded a 40-point period for the third straight contest, dropping exactly 40 on the Nuggets in the second quarter.

Even with Lin’s heroics, however, Houston still hit the break trailing 68-58, primarily because Denver’s starters could not be stopped whenever they were on the floor. Faried and Timofey Mozgov took turns abusing Houston’s defenders down low, playing a massive roll in the Nuggets’ 42 paint points and 20 fast break points scored in the opening two periods of play.

- The Rockets’ offense continued to roll after halftime, but unfortunately for Houston what also continued was Denver’s dominance on the offensive end. Only this time, it wasn’t Faried and Mozgov making Houston’s life miserable in the paint, but rather it was Randy Foye who decided to duplicate – and then top – Jeremy Lin’s flamethrower act. If what Lin did in the second quarter could be termed “going supernova” then Foye may very well have delivered the Big Bang, such was the ferocity and impact of his remarkable third quarter shooting display. The eight-year veteran hit all seven of his shots in the period, four of which came from distance, en route to piling up 22 points in that span. By the time the quarter came to a close, Denver’s lead had been restored to 17 and the Rockets appeared ready to make their way to Minneapolis and put this contest behind them.

You see it all the time in this league: a fatigued team rallies back from a big deficit only to ultimately run out of gas due to the fact that they don't have nearly enough left in the tank to finish the job. Houston got as close as five points during the third quarter, but when Foye’s shots kept falling, the end result appeared both predictable and inevitable.

- Perhaps the best news that came from the third quarter from a Houston perspective: James Harden was able to return to action after a scary fall that saw him in considerable pain while favoring his left leg. Harden went to the locker room, causing more than a few anxious moments among fans, but ultimately returned with a sleeve on his leg, apparently having sustained just a painful blow to his shin during a run-in with Aaron Brooks.

"I got kneed in the shin," he said after the game. "It was pretty painful. For a couple seconds my leg just went numb. It was very painful. I tried to go out there and play on it, but I ended up just getting some rest and icing it."

- So about that “predictable and inevitable” end result: that memo apparently never reached the convoy of Rio Grande Valley call-ups and products of the D-League system that came into the contest for fourth quarter garbage time and then proceeded to play the Vipers’ signature run-and-gun style in such a remarkable way that the Rockets stunningly made a game of things once again. With the inimitable Troy Daniels (4-of 6 from distance in the fourth quarter) leading the way, Houston drained six 3s in the final frame while Denver inexplicably relaxed and allowed the Rockets to whittle what once was a 22-point deficit down to just four by the two-minute mark.

Ultimately, however, the inspired trio of Daniels, Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan (they scored 19 of Houston’s 28 fourth quarter points) fell short as Denver pulled away once more down the stretch and prevailed 123-116.

- With the loss, the Rockets fall to 52-26 on the season. Their magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs remains at two, pending the outcome of Portland’s Wednesday night game with Sacramento. Up next for Houston: a visit to Minnesota for a Friday night date with the Timberwolves.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

They came out and just beat the hell out of us. Faried and Mozgov were just running down the floor, posting us up and throwing us out of the way. We had no answers for them. Then the third quarter, we got them somewhat controlled and then Foye went crazy. The other guys came in and they fought and tried to make it interesting but at that time we had given up a big lead.

Our defense was bad. The ball’s going wherever they want. We can’t control the ball. It gets wherever it wants and their bigs are running down the middle of the floor and posting in the middle of the paint. Tonight they just outran us and outworked us early and then we couldn’t control the ball.

(on Harden’s injury)

I think he’s fine.

(would he have been in an option in the last few minutes?)

No, I don’t think so. I think he was done at that point.

(concerned about bad habits on D?)

It’s been a habit all year long. If we don’t have good ball pressure, we can’t control the ball. We had this earlier in the year, too. Ball’s going wherever it wants to go – we’ve got to stop that.

JEREMY LIN

They just spread us out and moved the ball and made great plays. Guys caught fire: Faried and Mozgov in the first half and then Foye in the second and we were just never able to make them uncomfortable.

It’d be nice to sit here and say, ‘Oh, we were tired,’ but they did the same thing to us in Houston. At the end of the day we’ve got to have a little more pride in our defense.

(concerned about recent defensive issues?)

It’s definitely a point of concern. I do think that we’ve got to shore up some things. I do think we should be concerned but we don’t need to overreact.

JAMES HARDEN

I guess I got kneed in the shin. It was pretty painful. For a couple seconds my leg just went numb. It was very painful. I tried to go out there and play on it, but I ended up just getting some rest and icing it.

(if it had been a playoff game would you have been able to go back out there in the fourth quarter?)

Yeah, but today was kind of pointless. We’ve got four more games left and we’re trying to stay at four (seed).

That second unit did a tremendous job of fighting back and sticking with it and making shots and playing like the way we needed to play.

(concerned about D?)

It’s two games. Both teams played pretty fast. We’ve got to get back in our defensive mode and haven’t really had a chance to practice in a long time. Hopefully we can get it corrected soon.

TROY DANIELS

I finally got a chance to get out there and show what I can do. That’s my job, shoot the ball, and that’s what I did today. It was a lot of fun.

(on playing with Canaan and Covington in that fourth quarter)

We call ourselves the Viper Gang when we’re up here. It was great to see Isaiah throwing the ball to me so I could get some shots up.

You want to go out there and play as hard as you can. It might be your last chance, you never know, and it’s my job to do that.