Rockets lose to Lakers: I’ll find the good in this game if it kills me
At half time, I felt like I already had in mind what I was going to talk about regarding this game. Harden recorded 14 assists (a franchise record for assists in a half) and 16 points. Guys like Gordon, Anderson and even Capela were chipping in on the scoring. We had a 8 point lead going into the 2nd half. I was mentally deciding between which cliche lines to use about how we should’ve blown this team out from the start and it should never have gotten close at any point in the game. Then suddenly you look up and the team is down 4 with 4 minutes to go in the game.
But even then, I assumed we were going to get a win. After all, down 2 possessions with a guy like Harden on the floor to end the game? I like those odds. And Harden actually made a few plays late in the game, but the problem was so did the Lakers. So we never closed the gap, and the buzzer sounded with the Lakers stealing a win on us.
And that’s about as negative as I can get in a loss. I typically don’t write a blog post after a loss because typically there isn’t anything good to talk about. The defense was bad. The only reason I’m writing a post about this game was because there are actually some good-ish things to talk about even in a Rockets loss to the Lakers.
All of those good things involve the offensive side of the ball:
-Eric Gordon could potentially wind up being the more important free agent signing of the two New Orleans Pelicans we signed. His ability to create his own shot when Harden is on the bench is big. In this game in particular we still gave up leads when Harden went to the bench, but the bench guys didn’t look completely incompetent like they did last year. And he’s obviously going to also be awesome playing WITH Harden on the court at the same time. Because those times when both are on the court at the same time, it keeps defenses from just overloading Harden’s side of the court.
-Capela looked great on offense. He scored 16 points on 8-11 shooting. None of his baskets were from getting the ball in the post and beating his man. A few baskets came from running the court and getting the ball in transition at the rim. The rest came from pick and roll in the half court or off ball movement that led to him being wide open (more on that in a second). Capela isn’t going to be the Amare Stoudimire of this Phoenix 2.0 team by any means, but his height and athleticism alone are going to allow him to get free points just for being around the basket at the right time.
-Speaking of off ball movement, I saw dozens of plays where they ran some kind of action away from the ball and it led to a bucket. That’s probably the biggest difference (other than 3 point shooting) between the offense this year and last year. The play that sticks out in my mind the most is in the 1st half Harden had the ball at the top of the key (sound familiar?) and meanwhile, KJ McDaniels was setting a screen for Capela 8 feet away from the basket, which allowed him to get free going toward the rim where Harden hit him with the alley-oop. That was a rarity the past couple of years, but those kinds of plays are going to be what makes us a top 5 offensive team this year.
-And I can’t not talk about Harden’s 17 assist game. The crazy thing was, it wasn’t like we were just ungodly hot from 3. We actually shot 7-29 from behind the arc. But he typically was the one that made the final pass to the guy that would score on the fast break in the transition offense (which might be a fluke, but he did seem to get a lot of those types of assists). And I did just bring up all of the off-ball movement that led to players being open. I wouldn’t have bet on Harden averaging 10 assists a game this season… but this game certainly makes you see how that could happen.
-Speaking of 3 point shooting. The offense was productive as it was, and we didn’t have to hit an insane amount of 3s for that to happen. And something worth noting is that KJ McDaniels and Corey Brewer (our 2 sub 30% 3 point shooters last year), combined to take 7 shots… but only one 3 pointer between the two of them. So these two guys still are probably going to be mediocre behind the arc, but they show that they can give you something on the offensive side of the ball without relying on a bad 3 point shot.