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Game Day: Rockets vs. Nuggets

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' Saturday night showdown with the Denver Nuggets

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from Houston’s 122-111 win over the Denver Nuggets:

Now that’s more like it. The Rockets returned home and delivered one of their better efforts of the season Saturday night while snapping their seven-game losing streak to the Denver Nuggets in the process. Houston received contributions from up and down its roster (seven players totaled double figure scoring) and its pair of second-year power forwards rose to the occasion in a big way – a significant big picture development if such efforts can be consistently sustained going forward.

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- Plenty of understandable attention has been given to Chandler Parsons’ early season struggles from beyond the arc, but there hasn’t been nearly enough virtual ink spilled over the rest of his impact on the offensive end of the floor to date. Parsons entered tonight’s matchup averaging more than 20 points per game over his last five contests and he wasted no time building upon that success as he was responsible for Houston’s first 10 points of the game tonight, knocking down three shots – two of which he turned into and-1s – and assisting on a Terrence Jones bucket as the Rockets raced out to a quick early lead over the Nuggets. Parsons finished the night right at his magic number of 20 points again, marking the fourth time in the last five games that he’s reached that mark. That he’s done all of this while dealing with back spasms that have him playing in considerable pain makes this recent hot streak all the more impressive.

- The Rockets came into tonight’s game ranked third in the NBA in paint points per game while Denver wasn’t far behind, sitting 6th. So it should come as no surprise that both teams took up residence in the painted area right from the outset. By halftime, Houston had racked up 40 paint points to the Nuggets’ 32. For a bit of added perspective to those massive numbers, consider that the Rockets average 48 paint points per game and the league leaders, Detroit, score 51.2 per contest. The final tally: Houston 62 – Denver 60.

- With Greg Smith’s injury – he said pre-game he expected to be out 7-10 days with an LCL sprain of his left knee – and Omer Asik’s continued absence, tonight’s contest presented Donatas Motiejunas an opportunity to play his first meaningful minutes of the regular season and, goodness gracious, did he take full advantage during a first half that saw him score 11 points in 13 minutes off the bench. D-Mo showed off the his full range of offensive skills during the first two quarters of play, scoring via post-ups, in transition and by knocking down a corner 3. His interior defense and rebounding are still works in progress (see his 5 fouls in 17 minutes), but there is absolutely no denying the skills – which include some quick, clever passes – he brings to the offensive end.  

- Speaking of the Rockets’ reserves, the team’s bench brigade definitely delivered the goods tonight. In the first half they built upon the blistering beginning enjoyed by the starting five, and in the second half they helped put out a momentary fire when Dwight Howard picked up his fourth foul and shortly thereafter Houston’s 23-point lead got sliced to seven. It goes without saying that such stints from the team’s bench mob will be massive going forward, especially as it pertains to easing the workload of players like James Harden and Parsons who played a ton of minutes last season and are currently on track to do so again this campaign as both came into tonight’s contest in the top-5 of the NBA in terms of minutes played per game.

Early Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jeremy Lin has been sensational all season so Houston knows exactly what they’re getting from him, and the same can be said of the team’s plus/minus leader Omri Casspi. If the Rockets can also receive consistent quality minutes from the likes of Francisco Garcia and Motiejunas that would be a massive big picture boon for the team.

- Have to double back and go into more detail regarding the early third quarter storm Houston managed to navigate its way out of. Terrence Jones was a devastating force of nature himself in the period; perhaps he’d been inspired while watching the second quarter performance of fellow second-year power forward Motiejunas. Whatever the case may be, Jones was dynamic at both ends of the floor, blocking two shots, snatching five rebounds and scoring six points as well. Consistency is rarely the trademark of young talent, but Jones has had superlative moments in every game since becoming a starter and so long as he keeps learning, those positive stretches will gradually go into complete games. His final numbers tonight will get the job done for Houston pretty much every game: 14 points, 12 boards, 3 blocks and a very big impact.

- Desperate to find a way back into the game, Denver went the Hack-a-Howard route in the fourth quarter. The only effect: delaying the inevitable (and making the final frame interminably long. The Nuggets started the strategy while facing a 12-point deficit; by the time they finally put it away that hole had grown to 16. Give Denver credit for trying, though (just kidding – most definitely do not give them credit): they sent Howard to the line 19 times during that stretch and he knocked down 13 of them on his way to finishing 17-of-24 from the stripe. Pretty nice way to pad your scoring stats, if you ask me (Howard finished with 25 points – 18 of which came in the fourth period).

- Final note: I mentioned before the game started that Jeremy Lin has an excellent chance of taking home Western Conference Player of the Week honors. He recorded a tidy 16 points to go along with 7 assists and 4 rebounds this evening, bringing his weekly averages to 25.5 points per game built upon 52.4 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from beyond the arc. He also compiled 5.75 assists and 4.75 rebounds per game while helping his team to a 3-1 record. He’s definitely got a very legit shot.

In fact, his fiercest competition may very well come from one of his teammates. James Harden only played three games (all Rockets wins) so that might be taken into consideration, but his numbers look awfully good, too: 26.3 points, 7 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 40.4 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from downtown. The two Kevins (Durant and Love) figure to be in the mix as well, but their teams each went 2-2 this week, for what it's worth.

We’ll find out the results Monday morning, then Tuesday finds the Rockets back in action when the Boston Celtics come to town. See you then.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On Donatas Motiejunas' play) “D-Mo was really good, I was happy for him. He hadn't had a chance to play much. He went out there and gave us a big lift. He scored in the post. He moved the ball really well. He was bodied up on those big bodies that they have which is hard to do. I thought that he and Terrance really did a nice job of bodying those guys.”

(On Denver's run in the second half) “I thought that we were a little bit flat coming out of the halftime. We called a couple of timeouts. We got some stops and got out running and had some things go our way. The fourth quarter seems to go forever when they started doing the fouling job. It kind of takes a lot of wind out of everybody's sails.”

(On fouling tactic effecting offensive play) “I think there are times you get out of sorts a little bit because you never run an offensive set. You never run any offense at all. We have to be mentally disciplined. If they do it, they do it but we've got to be mentally tough too. We just have to keep playing through all that stuff.”

(On Terrence Jones' defensive play) “I think he can be very good defensively. He was nice tonight. We made a couple of adjustments. He was kind of trailing his guy out a little bit too far. He started plugging better for us. I think Terrence is just going to get better. He's in his second year. He made some nice moves offensively and rebounded the ball extremely well. He played well. He's a nice young kid and I'm really happy for him. He busted his hump and waited his turn. He's making the most of it. Now, with any young guy, he just has to bring consistency.”

(On teams play) “We have a goal of 25 free throws, 25 layups and 25 assist. This is one of the few nights that we've done it. Last year, when we did it we won 84% of the time when we met those categories. Tonight, we were able to get that. That's kind of where our team is. When we're playing well we're running, getting layups, we're running and getting fouled and we're running and moving the ball.”

(On how to approach fouling tactic) “I'm hoping that Dwight (Howard) shoots the ball well and they get out of that and don't do it. He had 25 points tonight and he had 24 free throw attempts. I guess the big thing is, walk up there, knock down your free throw attempts, and move along.”

(On Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas in the rotation) “I think Terrence and D-Mo running drags guards with them and opens up shots. It opens up some room for us, so that's been good for us.”

TERRENCE JONES

(On himself and Donatas Motiejunas feeling in for missing bigs) “I'm just staying in the rotation. It's great experience and a great opportunity for me. I'm just trying to get better each game. All of the little things continuing to stay on the boards, all of the guarding and just running the floor as hard as I can.”

(On his defensive aggressiveness) “I just like to win. Defense brings championships. That's what I've been taught. I try to help my team by doing all I can to win plays.”

(On his confidence) “Yeah, it's getting better and better. I'm just happy I'm getting out and continuing to play.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the Rockets level of play tonight) “It was solid tonight, but we could be a lot better on the defensive end, including myself. They (Denver) had too many offensive rebounds. We need to do a better job of blocking out. Tonight we started off good. We were able to stop their run and we need to continue to do that every night consistently. With a young team like that, it's like us. You have to learn how to be consistent, including myself.”

(On how he deals with Hack-A-Howard) “There's nothing I can do but try to make the free throws. Just focus and make them pay at the line. There's nothing I can do about it besides make them. The more free throws I make, the less teams will do the Hack-A-Howard. So, I'm just going to continue to practice and they will start falling.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the win) “We still have things to work on, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

(On the Rockets start of the game tonight) “Great start for the team. That was huge. It's tough when you get down and then try to get back. You exert a lot of energy. I got off to a quick start and got to the foul line. I think that's what I need.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the keys to the win) “I felt today we really hung our hats on defense and moving the ball and playing unselfish. Our fourth quarter defense wasn't that great, but before that it was.

(On Dwight Howard making free throws) “It was great. One of the things I was impressed with when working out with him was the fact that he could really shoot free throws. For him, it's just like any other shooter. Once you're in your zone and you're comfortable and in your groove, you're good.”

DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS

(On being ready when called upon) “It's hard to do it. It's hard to explain how hard it is. You try to be focused and you keep on practicing and that's the most important thing.”

(On his preparation for playing in a game) “You have to be in shape for that. It's hard to simulate the things that you do in a game when you practice. In practice you're doing moves one-on-one. It's really hard to be ready.”

DENVER NUGGETS COACH BRIAN SHAW

(On the game) “Its pretty simple, if you don’t defend you are not going to win. We gave up 62 points in the paint, which is unheard of, and we have to put it together ourselves. We gave up three 30 point quarters and you just can’t do that and expect to win.”

(On Hack-A-Howard) “That goes against everything I’m about. I even think you guys asked me that before the game, if I would resort to that, and I don’t believe in that and I don’t think it’s in the spirit of the game. So, that is exactly what I get for doing that. I’m glad he made his free throws and it shows me to just be true to who you are. It backfired. We actually had started defending and we got the lead down to somewhere around 10 and we were in the penalty already, so that was our thinking behind it. We gave it a shot and he got into a rhythm and started knocking them down, to his credit.”

(On his teams’ energy level) “On the defensive end, it started out that Chandler (Parsons) got them going. He got a bucket on the first play of the game and one and it was all about our defense. We knew this team could score a lot of points. We talked about the fact that our defense needed to be on point, and it wasn’t.”

TY LAWSON

(On the start of the game) “We started slow and we didn’t do any of the concepts and Houston came out hot. Actually they didn’t come out hot, they just made a lot of lay ups. We just didn’t come out ready to play. It was our defense and our effort. We just didn’t play any defense in the first half; it’s just as simple as that. We knew we could get back in the game, but when we got down to six we still rushed things and had three straight turnovers and gave up three easy layups and a three pointer that pushed it back to fourteen. That’s the push we had and we didn’t get stops after that.”

(On the Hack-a-Howard) “Hack-a-Howard of course that was coach’s decision and we talked about it and we tried to do it but he hit free throws, like 17-of-24. So, it was on him and this must be his day. He started swishing them (free throws) at the end. It was just bad luck I guess.”

J.J. HICKSON

(On the game) “I don’t think we lacked energy to start the game but we made a lot of mental mistakes and a lot of defensive mistakes. Our help side defense was non existent the first half and I think by the second half we dug ourselves into a hole that was too big and it was just too late.”

(On playing against Dwight Howard) “I just take on the challenge. I want to win that battle and if not, for the free throws, he hit 17-of-24 and if not for that, it would’ve been a different game. We just have to get better defensively as a team. The biggest thing we need to improve is the help side defense. They had too many drives to the hoop with no help and no resistance. It’s up to us individually to take care of our match ups and to know our schemes.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,147 (largest attendance of season), marking a sixth straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets scored a season high in points on 41-of-81 (.506) shooting to down the Nuggets 122-111 tonight. Houston ended a seven-game losing streak (3/2/12-4/6/13) to the Nuggets, which had equaled Denver’s longest all-time run over the Rockets (seven wins in a row from 1/7/77-10/29/78).

Houston (62) and Denver (60) combined for 122 points in the paint tonight. The Rockets and Nuggets came into tonight’s contest ranked third and sixth respectively in the NBA in points in the paint.

The Rockets ran off 61 first-half points (.610, 25-41 FG) and never trailed in tonight’s game. Dating back to last season, Houston now holds a record of 17-6 when scoring at least 60 points in the opening half.

For the second time this season Houston had seven players in double-figure scoring. The total included all five starters.

Dwight Howard netted 25 points (4-6 FG) off a 17-of-24 (.708) night from the free throw line. It marked the most free throw attempts by a Rockets player in a game since Sleepy Floyd went 22-of-27 at the line vs. Golden State (2/3/91). Howard actually scored 18 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, going 14-of-20 from the line in the fourth.

Terrence Jones finished with 14 points (6-11 FG), 12 boards and three blocked shots. He matched his career highs in points (14 on 4/3/13 at Sacramento) and rebounds (12 done twice, last on 4/12/13 vs. Memphis). Jones, who had just one double-double in his rookie campaign, already has two double-doubles on the season.

Chandler Parsons registered 20 points (8-13 FG) and six rebounds tonight. Parsons has now recorded 20 or more points four of his last five games.

James Harden had 17 points (5-16 FG) and nine assists, while Jeremy Lin added 16 points (6-11 FG) and seven dimes. The two combined for 16 of Houston’s 27 assists on the night.

Donatas Motiejunas came off the bench with a season-high 12 points (5-6 FG) tonight.

Ty Lawson led four Nuggets in double-digit scoring with 28 points (11-19 FG) and 17 assists tonight. He matched Chris Paul (17 on 11/4/13 at L.A. Clippers) for the most assists against the Rockets this season. Lawson’s 17 assists also tied the opponent Toyota Center record set by Nets guard Deron Williams (17 on 2/26/11 vs. New Jersey).

J.J. Hickson posted 14 points (7-12 FG) and eight rebounds tonight. Hickson’s most points ever scored against the Rockets prior to tonight was 12 (done twice with Portland).

Kenneth Faried, who had 16 points and 16 rebounds last year at Houston (11/7/12), pulled down another 10 boards tonight. He joined Timofey Mozgov with 10 rebounds tonight to top the Nuggets.