Rockets’ juggernaut continues to roll over top teams
By Agence France-Presse
The Houston Rockets aren’t the type of team to rest on their laurels.
Just two days after beating the reigning league champion Golden State Warriors, Houston quickly refocused on Monday night with a 99-90 victory over the Miami Heat in a battle of first-place NBA teams.
James Harden scored a team-high 28 points while Chris Paul had 16, six rebounds and six assists for the Rockets, who are blasting through one of the toughest stretches of their season.
“We got to win games like that,” Harden said. “I think they only had seven threes all night.
“We buckled down and took away the paint. Made them make tough shots over us.”
Eric Gordon came off the bench to score 16 points and Clint Capela delivered 14 for the Rockets, who won for the first time when scoring under 100 points in a game.
Hassan Whiteside led the Southeast Division-leading Heat with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Josh Richardson finished with 12 in the loss in front of a crowd of 18,050 at the Toyota Center arena.
The Rockets, who are first in the Southwest Division, improved to 33-12 on the season by overcoming a sizeable early deficit against the Heat.
Their last three wins have all come over first-place teams, Golden State, Miami and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Houston welcomed both Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green back to their rotation after they served suspensions for trying to get into the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room following a physical game at Staples Center arena.
Monday’s contest marked the first time in a while that the Rockets were fully healthy and the hope now is they can continue to find the right chemistry with all their injured and suspended players back in the lineup.
“We finally got all our guys healthy,” Harden said. “We got guys that can play a lot of minutes with a lot of energy.”
The short-handed Heat have also ramped up the tenacity in their play of late as they were coming off a 106-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Houston’s Harden nailed a three pointer with about three minutes left in the fourth to bust open a close game.
The Rockets then went on a 7-2 run to make it 95-90 with 38 seconds remaining.
The Heat led by double digits at halftime and kept it close down the stretch.
– Sun rises without Kidd –
Elsewhere, Malcolm Brogdon scored a career-high 32 points as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 109-105 just hours after sacking head coach Jason Kidd.
Kidd was replaced by assistant coach Joe Prunty who was promoted to interim head coach until a full-time replacement can be found.
Khris Middleton, who scored a team-high 35 points, had high praise for his former coach.
“It’s tough for me,” Middleton said. “He took my game to another level. He took this team to a whole other level. Today was a tough day.”
A Bucks statement paid tribute to Kidd’s work in helping the team reach two playoff appearances soon after his appointment in 2014.
However, general manager Jon Horst said the time had come for a change with the Bucks languishing in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings at 23-22.
“We appreciate everything that Jason has done for the Bucks organization, but we have decided to make a coaching change,” Horst said.
“We believe that a fresh approach and a change in leadership are needed to continue elevating our talented team towards the next level, bringing us closer to our goal of competing for championships.”
Kidd, an NBA champion as a player with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and a 10-time NBA All-Star pick, helped steer the Bucks to the playoffs in his first season in charge.
Under Kidd, the Bucks had a regular-season record of 139-152 and reached the first round of the NBA playoffs in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.
In Dallas, Harrison Barnes had 20 points and 10 rebounds, rookie Dennis Smith scored 17 and the Dallas Mavericks finished a season sweep of playoff-contending Washington, beating the Wizards 98-75. (AFP)