12/27 Game Preview: Celtics at Rockets
HOUSTON -- James Harden continues to make it difficult to focus on the minutiae, dominating games so thoroughly that his brilliance renders other critical factors for the Houston Rockets secondary.
On Christmas against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was at it again, producing a career-best seventh consecutive 30-plus-point game to help carry the Rockets to a 113-109 victory. Harden, who posted 41 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals, has been on a tear in unison with the Rockets' stellar play. Houston has won seven of its last eight games.
During that eight-game stretch, Harden is averaging 38.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 2.3 steals.
When the Rockets (18-15) host the Boston Celtics on Thursday at Toyota Center, they will look to Harden to remain front and center. Additionally, Houston will seek to maintain its incremental improvement on the glass after struggling to rebound earlier this season.
"One thing is we're keeping our bigs home a little bit more," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Clint (Capela) is turning it on and being aggressive, a lot more aggressive.
"Just emphasizing that's what we have to do to win and these guys want to win, so they're making a little bit more of an effort understanding how important it is."
Capela grabbed 23 rebounds against the Thunder, his second consecutive 20-rebound performance (he also collected 23 boards against the San Antonio Spurs last Saturday). Of that total against Oklahoma City, Capela snagged 10 offensive rebounds.
The Rockets rank 10th in the NBA this month in offensive rebounding percentage (28.5). Capela is at the heart of that effort, with five of his 14.6 rebounds in the last eight coming on the offensive end.
The Celtics (20-13), whose 121-114 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday marked their second consecutive win after a three-game skid, could assign their recovery to the return of center Al Horford. Boston is 6-3 without Horford but has won five successive games with him.
While the Celtics' ample depth usually covers short-term roster attrition, their potency is amplified when Horford is available to anchor their defense and facilitate offensively.
Horford missed seven consecutive games with knee soreness, a stretch that led to a flexible mandate regarding a restriction on his minutes. However, Horford logged 30 minutes against the 76ers, grabbing nine rebounds and distributing five assists. When the Celtics needed Horford to provide stability down the stretch, they carefully rode him through the extra period.
"I asked the training staff if they were -- if he could play any extra (period) or not," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "In overtime games, we've talked about that in the past: sometimes they say, 'Pull him in and out,' maybe 'Play him the last two minutes,' whatever.
"They said he was fine. They said he was good to go. They said he looked good, felt good, and the 25 minutes (restriction) is obviously precautionary, and on the very conservative side, but at the same time, we made sure we cross those T's and dot those I's."