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Relentless-yet-grounded Patrick Beverley driving Rockets' surge

All season long, Houston has been a better team when their defensive-minded point guard is on the court.

Fran Blinebury

You picture Pat Beverley sleeping on a cold, concrete floor, a board for a pillow, with maybe a nail sticking through one side.

“Don’t talk to me about getting comfortable,” he said. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

You don’t parse words with the Houston Rockets’ hair shirt guard. Just watch him work, like a surgeon with a butter knife and pair of pliers. It ain’t pretty, but he fixes things.

It’s a season when James Harden’s almost nightly assault on the record books deservedly gets most of the attention and much of the credit for the Rockets’ rise to thin-air height in the standings. With “The Beard” pouring in 3-pointers, attacking the rim and piling up triple-doubles, it is quite easy to be simply drawn and dazzled by the fireworks.

The Rockets are a pinwheel point machine that keeps spinning because coach Mike D’Antoni has thrown open the barn doors and turned them loose. Eric Gordon is neck-and-neck with Stephen Curry for the league-lead in 3-pointers in an early bid for Kia Sixth Man of Year in his first season coming off the bench. Ryan Anderson’s shooting has seamlessly fit into the offense. There’s Clint Capela’s growth, Nene’s stability and electric play from youngsters Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker. It’s all led to Houston flying high at 31-10.

But it’s Beverley who keeps the whole thing grounded, chewing on ankles, sweeping up the crumbs down there at floor level. The Rockets opened the season 6-5 when Beverley was sidelined with a sore left knee that eventually required arthroscopic surgery. But they’ve won 25 of 30 since he returned to the rotation.

“You can’t measure what he means to a team, just his edginess, his toughness, getting loose balls, extra possessions, whatever it takes,”D’Antoni said. “He’s one off the few guys in this league that can go 0-for-2 and still win the game, but not score. He’s got that type of spirit and feistiness.”

Beverley came into the league four seasons ago, after bouncing around Europe, with that feistiness as his calling card and was eventually named to the All-Defensive second team in 2014. But he came into this season feeling the need to re-establish himself after a 2015-16 season where the team wallowed to a miserable 41-41 record and he felt the knife edge to his game had dulled.

So Beverley dropped 20 pounds and jumped on board with D’Antoni’s plan to reinvent and supercharge the Rockets’ offense by taking away his job as point guard and giving it to Harden.

“No, not a problem,” Beverley said. “Didn’t even think about complaining. First of all, that’s me. Second, Coach D’Antoni is an offensive guru when it comes to schemes. He’s put me in a position where I can really be Pat. I can shoot the 3. I can play off the catch. I get offensive rebounds. And I still have a lot of energy left to defend. I don’t have to bring the ball up every time. It’s fun and it’s been working. So I don’t need to change nothing. To have the best player in the league right now with the ball, if it helps us win games, that’s for the best.”

Despite the fact that he’s no longer the primary ball-handler, Beverley’s assists (4.4 per game) and rebounding (6.2 per game) are at career highs. In a Dec. 9 win at Oklahoma City, he shot just 1-for-8 from the field, but also had 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals and made the key defensive plays down the stretch against Russell Westbrook to seal the Rockets’ win.

Lately, Beverley has been playing with a sprained right wrist that that gives him jolts of pain every time he shoots the ball. He missed a stretch of three out of four games due to the wrist injury, but is back in the lineup as the Rockets had run off win streaks of 10 and nine in a row before Wednesday’s loss at Minnesota. They are simply a better team when he plays.

“There’s a couple of things,” D’Antoni said. “One, just with Pat on the floor, how he plays defensively, rebounding, playmaking and all that, if he doesn’t do anything, he takes minutes off Eric Gordon and James. For the long run we have to have that. Especially this month when we play 17 games. So even if he doesn’t do anything (else), he’s valuable.

“I told him, ‘Look Pat, you just being over on the bench dressed, you’re an asset. So don’t think you’re gonna let the team down (because) you can’t shoot or it’s not going in or it hurts too much. If you can play, you’re gonna be an asset.’ ”

Anderson calls him a gnat, pesky and bothersome. Trevor Ariza says he’s a stabilizing force. Harden calls him their heart their soul.

Just don’t ever call him comfortable.

“Never,” Beverley said. “I don’t think my family or my friends will allow it.”

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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