Harden streaks on as Rockets face Jazz
The Houston Rockets, having persevered for so long without guard Chris Paul, appeared positioned to continue their stellar play once Paul returned from injury.
Houston has hit the skids instead.
The Rockets have dropped two of three games with Paul back in their starting lineup, including consecutive losses to the New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets in which their defense was nonexistent.
At Denver on Friday, Houston surrendered 48 second-quarter points and 83 in the first half of a 136-122 loss that was the first game of a back-to-back set. The Rockets play at the Utah Jazz on Saturday in Salt Lake City.
Paul, coming back from a hamstring injury, likely will sit out Saturday as the team will be cautious with his minutes, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. On Friday, Paul posted 20 points and six assists in 29 minutes, his most since logging 36 against Utah on Dec. 17.
Good news for Houston: Guard James Harden (30 points, six rebounds, nine assists) extended his streak of consecutive 30-point games to 25, tied for the third-longest in league history.
Bad news for Houston: The Nuggets shot a robust 62.2 percent from the floor, including 14 of 31 on 3-point attempts. Houston tallied 71 points in the first half yet trailed by double digits at the intermission.
Lackadaisical defense was also their undoing against the undermanned Pelicans on Tuesday. The Rockets' effort against Denver could best be described as noncommittal.
"I just don't think we sustained a toughness and a grit into them, but every time we did they broke our back with great shots and they played well," D'Antoni said.
"There's a lot of them (defensive issues). We have a hard time staying in front of people. And the biggest thing, too, is we don't have (center) Clint (Capela), we don't have that rim protector. That's huge for us, obviously.
"Just staying in front of people and missing assignments -- we don't communicate. When we do switch, for whatever reason we have a hard time communicating."
In what was perhaps the least surprising development across the league on Friday, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was bathed with support from a partisan crowd during a 128-112 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Gobert, not selected as a reserve for the All-Star Game later this month, reacted emotionally to the snub and was subsequently derided from some players throughout the NBA for that response.
On the court against the Hawks, Gobert produced a performance worthy of accolades: 25 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. It came as no surprise that Jazz faithful vocalized their support for Gobert, but he was still moved by the display in light of prior developments.
"It means a lot," Gobert said. "That's why I try to give my all every night and that's why I'm going to keep doing it."
Utah was locked in a dogfight with Atlanta before posting a 70-point second half to cruise to victory. Utah has won 10 of 12 games.
The Jazz dismantled Houston 118-91 at home on Dec. 6.
"We're just going to try to come out ready and do what we do," Gobert said. "Play defense, get stops, and try to win the game."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 2, 2019