Rockets bounce back with complete effort

HOUSTON -- This was needed.


The Houston Rockets made inroads into salvaging their week after consecutive losses to the defending champion San Antonio Spurs caused them to lose a high seed in the Western Conference. They provided a complete-game effort against the playoff-starved New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night.

The Rockets’ 121-114 victory ended a two-game slide and silenced the doom and gloom around here, at least for now.

“This was huge for us, especially after that tough loss last game, that was rough,” said Corey Brewer, who produced a strong 20-point night in 29 minutes off the bench. “So tonight it was a big win and we need to close the season out the right way and win the next two.”

If you’re trying to figure out the postseason standings, please don’t because it’s a mess.

What we know, at least at this hour, or minute, is Golden State is No. 1, Dallas is No. 7 and Oklahoma City and the Pelicans are fighting for No. 8.

Technically, if the postseason began today, the Rockets would be headed to L.A. to face the Clippers. The twists and turns of the playoff seedings would take another one of those MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences that Daryl Morey runs to figure this out.

Coach Kevin McHale has preached to this team to move forward and not worry about seedings, scores and standings. Just play the game in front of them and worry about tomorrow, well, like tomorrow.

Sunday night, the Rockets started off slowly until their MVP, James Harden, took over in the third quarter. He scored a rousing 14 points in the entire 12 minutes, missing just one shot, a 3-pointer, as the Rockets entered the fourth tied 86-86.

Harden tied the game on a vintage drive to the basket with 6.2 seconds to play. The momentum carried into the fourth with Harden on the bench sitting at 30 points while the man he’s competing with for the scoring title, Russell Westbrook, was putting up 54 points elsewhere.

McHale employed his second unit surrounded around starters Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza to begin the fourth.

Howard, who played an impressive 28 minutes, got it going with a layup, followed by a blocked shot. Brewer made two foul shots and then a layup. It was a 6-0 run and the Rockets were up six. The run extended to 14-5 as Howard scored six points and had two blocked shots.

The Pelicans played Hack-a-Josh, and unlike what it did on Friday night when the Spurs utilized the same strategy, it didn’t slow down the Rockets' offense.

“Just knocking them down,” said Josh Smith, who went 4-for-9 from the line. “Focusing, making them when they count. We know that we’re going to have to go through this during the postseason. We’re just working out the kinks right now.”

By the time Harden returned with 6:39 left, the Rockets had secured the game and the Pelicans needed to check the scores to make sure the Thunder lost to maintain the eight seed.

“Brewer, Dwight and that fourth-quarter unit are the guys who won the game for us,” said Harden, who finished with 30. “They brought the energy, they brought the intensity. We got out in transition. I think Dwight got a couple of blocks and we had a couple of steals and that’s what it is, basically energy.”

Howard won’t play Monday in Charlotte. It’s a game the Hornets don’t really need, while the Rockets do. The objective is to close out the season with a three-game win streak and hope the two-game slide against the Spurs won’t hurt in the long term.

One of the more impressive things about the Rockets' season is they haven’t lost three consecutive games all season.

“You grind out these series of 10 games and it doesn’t mean you’re winning 10 games [in a row], you just don’t lose a lot in a row,” McHale said. “You just find a way to battle. Ideally what you’re trying to do is keep the losing streak to one. If you don’t ever lose consecutive games, you usually end up with a very good record and it’s hard to do and you don’t want to go on any extended losing streak.”