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A Royal Romp

April 15, 2013 2:17 am EDT

Rockets return to form, crushing the Sacramento Kings 121-100

HOUSTON - James Harden, for one, took the Rockets’ fan appreciation night to heart. On multiple occasions Sunday evening, Houston’s hirsute star found his forward momentum carrying him out of bounds. Feeling no need to stop there, Harden kept right on running until he reached the stands, handing out high fives to several star struck fans during his brief sojourns among the adoring crowd. Yes, it was that sort of night in downtown Houston: all high fives, hugs and highlights. And why not? The Rockets didn’t just crush the Kings 121-100 Sunday; they offered a 48-minute reminder of all the attributes they possess that have helped to transform this assemblage of precocious young talent into one of the most exciting teams in the NBA.

Like fast-paced, fast-breaking basketball? Watch the Rockets as they rack up 27 fast break points – just in the first half alone. Enjoy free-flowing, hyper efficient offense? Have a look at the way Harden sliced and diced Sacramento’s hopelessly overmatched defense while recording 29 points and 9 assists. Have a fondness for unselfish hoops at its finest? Check out the beautiful ball movement that found Houston’s players swinging the rock from side to side, inside and out, poking and probing until they found the most vulnerable spots to exploit. Get a kick out of watching amazing athletes make remarkable plays? Just do yourself a favor, pop some popcorn, get comfortable and bask in wide-eyed wonder at the latest installment of the Terrence Jones show.

“I’m just trying to play my game,” Jones modestly said on a night that saw him swat five shots, go coast-to-coast for a layup and throw down a vicious dunk in transition. “I’m just trying to do all the little things that can help me stay on the floor and that’s blocking shots, offensive rebounding, whatever it takes. For me to stay out there and be able to contribute to every win we get, I feel blessed to do it.”

The Rockets and their fans surely share similar feelings regarding what it means to watch Jones play right now. After battling both injuries and the mandatory roller coaster ride that nearly all rookies must manage, the University of Kentucky product has burst onto the scene this month to provide Houston with a dynamic, playmaking presence off the bench. Two weeks ago, it seemed as if his personal highlight reel from his debut year in the NBA would consist solely of preseason highlights. Now, he looms as a potential game-changer for the Rockets’ playoff run – a much-anticipated postseason march that still contains far too many variables to figure out precisely where it will begin.

“We’ll be underdogs to whoever we play,” said Houston head coach Kevin McHale when asked for his thoughts regarding the myriad playoff scenarios still swirling around his squad. “That’s fine with us. We just want to get in there and get the guys playing well. I like our chances against anybody. If we can get defensive stops and get out and run and put pressure on the rim and knock down some shots, we’ll give everybody we play a good go.”

To that end, the Rockets took a significant step forward in their romp past Sacramento. Chandler Parsons returned to the lineup after missing four games with a strained right calf and wasted little time shaking off the rust on his way to posting 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Omer Asik recorded his 33rd double-double of the season. Jeremy Lin caught fire in the third quarter, pouring in 11 of his 15 points in the period. Carlos Delfino rediscovered his shooting stroke while knocking down four shots from beyond the arc. It was, quite simply, a complete performance on both sides of the floor; the sort of showing every club hopes to have on the road to rounding into playoff form.

“It’s about improving on the small things, the details, working on our defensive mindset going into the playoffs,” said Harden. “Making the extra pass and trying to do the same things we’ve been doing all year, just at a higher level.

“We want to be on the same page, playing hard, get guys back in their rhythm and go into this postseason with some confidence and some swagger.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the game) “It was a good game. We came out and had a little bit of a draggy part in that second quarter for a awhile and then we spread it out. I saw a lot of good stuff out there tonight. It was good to see Chandler (Parsons) play again, Carlos (Delfino) got enough rhythm to make a few shots. It was big for us to try to do that. I thought James (Harden) was good the whole night in attacking and distributing the ball. It was a good win. I thought Terrence Jones gave us good minutes coming off the bench.”

(On Chandler Parsons play) “I thought that Chandler had a pretty good rhythm. It looked like he hadn't missed any time so that’s good. Tomorrow will be key, hopefully his calf feels really good tomorrow. We'll play him some tomorrow and let him build up a little bit.”

(on team pace): Our pace has been slowing down a little bit. We’re tried to get that back up. Our pace against Memphis was actually pretty decent; we just didn’t score very much. We wanted to make sure we came out and attacked early, push it up. For us the key thing is if we can get some stops, get out and push – if our defense turns into offense for us a lot of good things happen.

(on current seeding playing a factor in minutes): We’ll see how it goes. There are so many scenarios; we don’t control anything. We’re just going to have to play. Whoever we play we will not be favored. We’ll be underdogs to whoever we play. That’s fine with us. We want to get in there and get the guys playing well. I like our chances against anybody. If we can get defensive stops and get out and run and put pressure on the rim and knock down some shots, we’ll give everybody we play a good go.

(On expectations of getting to the playoffs) “I think for us having 45 wins for this team coming in, for all the newness, 29-12 at home is big. I thought that was a good home record and I think that for teams that are building and are trying to get where we want to go, you've got to establish winning at home first and then build on that. This year is a year where we are building a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of stuff to proud of. I think James (Harden) has had a tremendous year. Jeremy Lin coming in has played very, very well. Omer Asik for the first time starting. It’s been a year. Greg smith has really come on, Terrence Jones is coming on, finding Patrick Beverley and bringing him over here…like I said we're just building and building. We've got two more regular season games and then we have the playoffs. I'm looking forward to it.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(on getting back on the court) It felt unbelievable just to be out there playing with the team and just being back in the flow of things. It was a great feeling, especially the way we played tonight, just unselfish and moving the ball. It was real positive the way my calf really didn’t get too stiff or too sore. Even when I came in and out of the game, it felt just as good going back in so that was a positive sign.

(On getting his conditioning back before the post season)  “It’s huge. I want to play tomorrow and I want to play against the Lakers. I want to play as much as possible before the postseason, so I’m at 100% game shape and not gassed and not tired, so I think it s really important for me to play a lot of minutes. So I hope Coach McHale is watching this.”

JEREMY LIN

We did a good job today of executing our game plan. I thought we shared the ball, moved the ball and we had a lot of people in doubt-digit scoring, and when we play like that we are a tough team to beat.

We didn’t give them too much easy stuff and they have to take tougher shots and our bigs did a really good job of protecting the paint for us. Terrence Jones was swatting everything. Guys really stepped up in the paint and tried to make them kick it out and make them play off jumpers.

TERRENCE JONES

I’m just trying to play my game and just try to do all the little things that can help me stay on the floor and that’s blocking shots, offensive rebounding, whatever it takes. For me to stay out there and be able to contribute to every win we get, I feel blessed to do it.

I’m just trying to get comfortable. I just started playing up here. I’ve been nervous and I’m still nervous, so I’m just trying to get used to being in the game and knowing that I’m going to play and try to be comfortable out there.

JAMES HARDEN

(what the team is trying to improve upon) It’s about improving on the small things, the details, working on our defensive mindset going into the playoffs. Making the extra pass and trying to do the same things we’ve been doing all year, just at a higher level.

We want to be on the same page, playing hard, get guys back in their rhythm and go into this postseason with some confidence and some swagger.

(on his trips into the stands): I got an opportunity to shake some hands and make some people smile so that was a good thing.

(On the importance of the win for building momentum into the playoffs) “Its good to have Chandler (Parsons) back, its good to have Carlos (Delfino) back. The key for us was that all of us were in the same rhythm, on the same page, offensively and defensively.”

GREG SMITH

(On the Rockets defense tonight) “I think we just played together and packed the paint because they (Kings) wanted to push the ball and they wanted to shoot threes. They wanted to attack; they wanted to get the ball to D Cousins (DeMarcus Cousins) so we just had to pack the paint. When they put it on the floor, we tried to double team the guys handling and make other players make plays and I think that frustrated them a lot because they were trying to figure out what to do to beat our defense. We just stuck together and played as a team, it’s hard to beat a team when you play as a team on defense.”

SACRAMENTO KINGS COACH KEITH SMART

(On the game) “That wasn't really a fun event there. I think the first half we gave up 27 points on transition and they (Houston) were a much faster basketball team than we were. We knew Houston would try to get out and run at home but we had to get out and take care of the basketball. Our top guys went 11-45 (field goals) and you're not going to have a chance in a basketball game when you're playing like that. Our guys have to understand that when you want to play. They have done a great job so far but every player has to be willing and ready to play on the floor. We've had only a handful of games that have been a blowout but as of late, our starters haven't gotten out to a good start and we've had a to play catch up. The second unit came in and did a great job and cut the score to three but you have to play catch up and you're not going to have a chance on the road. On the road you have to come out fast to give yourself a chance on the road especially against a good team that can shoot like Houston.”

(On Cole Aldrich's career high points) “The young man has really come on and he's had some flashes in other games that he's played and I thought it was a great night for him. He got out and controlled the paint, what he's supposed to do, communicated and talked. I was happy he had 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. I thought he did a great job. He's very eager and a professional and has a pure heart when he plays the game so he's going to get a chance to showcase his self.”

(On the Rockets in the playoffs) “I think the focus for their team, like most teams is you have to focus on what you can do and you have to make sure you're sharp at what you do. Houston starts with James Harden and how he's playing and being healthy all the way through the playoffs. Jeremy Lin is still a young, developing point guard and they have nice size. The tempo of the game can favor them depending on who they play but I think they'll have an opportunity to grow as a team. They have made moves to get themselves in this position and that’s no different of what I'm thinking about my team. We have to go through a lot of pain first to eventually have a moment like the Rockets will have going to the playoffs after not being there a couple of years. They made the right moves and went out and got a talented young man and put a back court mate with him and adding some other big pieces around them. I like their young guys bringing the energy and they'll go into the playoffs with nothing to lose. This will be their first time back there and now we want to go in and just play loose. Coach Mac (Kevin McHale) will keep them loose going into the game because they really have nothing to lose.”

COLE ALDRICH

(On his career high back in Houston) “The return was kind of weird coming back because this is my second time actually this year coming back to a team that I was just on. It was fun because you get to take a little extra time to see everybody and make your rounds when you come back but I think just coming in and playing hard is all I can do. I just continue to work and we only have two games left but its how you finish and that’s my mindset. We're not going to make the playoffs but that doesn't mean we're not going to still work.”

JIMMER FREDETTE

(On the bench spark) “We did a good job of getting us back in the game but then we let it go again. At halftime Houston was up 18 again and they went on a big run at the end of the second quarter. We got it back in and we just weren't making some shots and they got some shots in transition. Give credit to them but we have to give a better job getting stops.”

PATRICK PATTERSON

(On returning to Houston) “It felt good being back in Toyota Center where I’ve been pretty much my whole career. It was good to see the Houston people and my ex-teammates and just go out there and play basketball.”

(On the Rockets playoff analysis) “I think they can go as far as they want to go. With Greg (Smith) in the starting lineup, he plays great defense and he's worked extremely well on his offense and is scoring well in the post and rebounding. When you add James (Harden), Jeremy (Lin) as they are scoring at will, as they usually do. They are very hard to guard. Spreading the court out with Omer (Asik) and their pick and roll and finishing around the rim and his ability to rebound. They are a great defensive team when they want to be and we already know they are one of the top offensive teams in the league. Like I said they can go as far as they want to if they keep playing together.”

(On Terrence Jones' play) “I'm extremely happy for him. I'm proud of him. He took advantage of all his opportunities. He went to the D-League and made the most of it and played his butt off every single game when he was down there and when his opportunity came up here in the NBA, he seized the moment and is playing exceptionally well. He is playing with great confidence and I wish him the best and I'm definitely proud of him.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,138 for tonight’s “Fan Appreciation Night.” Overall, the Rockets recorded 20 sellouts in 2012-13, including a sellout in 10 of the final 15 outings at Toyota Center.

The Rockets recorded their 29th home win (29-12) of the season tonight. The victory gave Houston its third most home wins in a season since moving into Toyota Center back in 2003-04 (33-8 in 2008-09 and 31-10 in 2007-08).

The Rockets hit .542 (45-83 FG, 13-27 3FG) from the floor and held the Kings to just .390 (39-100 FG) shooting in a 121-100 victory tonight. In the process, the Rockets racked up their 10th win of the season by 20 or more points, which stands as Houston’s most such victories in a season since a franchise-record 14 back in 2006-07.

Houston swatted away a season-high 12 shots tonight, surpassing their previous best of 10 blocks at Indiana (1/18/13) and 10 blocks at Denver (4/6/13).

The Rockets dished out 28 assists tonight, giving Houston 89 total assists (29.7 apg) over three meeting with the Kings this season. Houston now holds a mark of 25-8 this season when dishing out 25 or more assists in a game.

Houston recorded 33 fast-break points tonight, including 27 in the first half alone. The Rockets now own a record of 14-2 when scoring 25-plus points off the break this season.

The Rockets reeled in 62 first-half point on 24-of-43 (.558) shooting tonight. Overall, Houston has recorded 29 60-point halves on the season.

Houston’s starting five have all scored 10-plus points in the same game 12 times on the season.

James Harden, who scored at least 30 points in each of his prior two outings, finished with 29 points (11-16 FG, 4-6 3FG, 3-7 FT) and nine assists tonight. The Rockets are now 13-5 when Harden reaches at least 20 points and eight assists in a game.

Chandler Parsons returned the lineup tonight after missing the last four games (4/5/13-4/12/13) with a strained right calf. Parsons had 13 points (5-7 FG, 2-3 3FG), five boards and five assists tonight.

Omer Asik posted 10 points (4-9 FG) and 12 boards tonight. Asik, who has registered 10 or more rebounds in 30 of his last 35 games, now owns 33 double-doubles on the season.

Terence Jones set a team season high in blocks with a career-high five blocked shots tonight. Jones has now posted multi-block performances in three of the last four games (4/6/13-4/14/13).

Travis Outlaw came off the bench with 15 points (5-8 FG) to top the Kings in scoring tonight. It mark the first time this season Outlaw has led Sacramento in scoring.

Cole Aldrich had a career night off the bench for Sacramento, scoring a career-best 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting (prev. high: six points), grabbing a career-high 12 boards (prev. high: seven rebounds) and blocking a career-best four shots (prev. high: three blocks) tonight.

Isaiah Thomas collected 10 points (2-9 FG, 5-5 FT) and a season-high 10 assists tonight. Thomas picked up his fourth career double-double and his first on the season.

John Salmons added 14 points (5-8 FG, 3-6 3FG) tonight, giving him double-figure scoring in 28 games.

Jason Thompson’s first rebound tonight helped him claim sole possession of sixth place on the Kings all-time career rebounds list.