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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sports

Rockets land wins in last three, prepare for Lebron on Thursday


James Harden is ascending to new heights behind a career-high scoring average of 29.5 points per game through the team’s first 11 games. The five-time All-Star will square off against Lebron James and the Cavaliers on Thursday night. | Wikimedia Commons

Lost in the frenzy surrounding the Astros’ historic World Series run, the city’s professional basketball team is off to one of the league’s hottest starts with an 8-3 record — second place in the Western Conference — following a week that included three comfortable wins against the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Jazz.

The team will lay its three-game win streak on the line Thursday when it hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Toyota Center before tough games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

To keep the wins coming during this tough stretch, Houston will rely on great showings from its impact players and continued reliance on the 3-pointer.

Live, die by the 3

The Rockets are averaging 120.5 points per game this season thanks to their trademark long-range shooting. Houston is averaging 17 makes per game from beyond the arc while launching 46 attempts each contest — both league-leading marks through three weeks.

Aside from shooting a dreadful 27.7 percent in their loss to 76ers on Oct. 30, the Rockets have not dipped below 34 percent from range in any of their wins. In the 27-point blowout of the Jazz on Sunday, a season-high, 137-point performance was highlighted by a 59 percent efficiency (23-for-39) from deep.

Forwards Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson are combining to average 5-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc per game. Anderson leads all NBA power forwards in 3-point attempts per contest (7.9) and is tied for first by making three on average.

Forward Luc Mbah a Moute is proving to be a welcome addition to the Rockets’ 3-point barrage, contributing 46 percent of his shots from deep over the last four games while also leading the team with nine steals in that span.

Early impacts

To no surprise, Harden stood individually over the last week.

Harden notched his second Western Conference Player of the Week honor this season season by averaging 36.3 points per game since Oct. 30, which included a 56-point performance (7-for-8 from 3) against the Jazz. In this time, Harden ranked No. 1 among all NBA shooting guards with 10 assists and 10 free throw attempts per game.

Shooting guard Eric Gordon continues to make his presence felt as the secondary playmaker, averaging 20.5 points and 4.5 3-pointers while making all 10 of his free throws over the last four games.

In addition to Gordon, Rockets’ Swiss center Clint Capela has solidified himself among the NBA’s top 10 big men by grabbing a team-high 10.5 rebounds and two blocks per contest since Oct. 30.

Cavs’ defensive woes

Struggling to gel up to this point, the Cavaliers’ rocky start features dropping six of their first 11 games while allowing 113.9 points per game – ranking them No. 31 of 32 NBA teams. Cleveland surrenders 41.7 percent shooting from deep while converting only 33.4 percent of their long-range shots.

The absence of starting center Tristan Thompson has forced the Cavaliers to place the undersized Kevin Love in the position, resulting in low rebounds each game.

Lebron James, finding himself primarily as a power forward this year, put the Cavaliers on his back despite their struggles this season. Last week, James averaged more than 39 points and 10 assists while also converting 19 of 20 attempts from the free-throw line.

Both Ariza and Mbah a Moute will have their hands full defending James.

Kevin Love and point guard Derrick Rose are spearheading the supporting cast, combining for 31.2 points a game. Other performers include the aging Dwayne Wade, who averages about four assists off of the bench; Jae Crowder, who possesses a top three defensive rating of 115 among small forwards; and Kyle Korver, who is shooting 47 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent from the field.

Oddly enough, the Cavaliers appear to be the easiest matchup on paper this week, especially if they continue their 3-point woes. With the lack of size down low, the Harden-Capela combo should be able to torch Love under the rim and open up kick-outs to Houston’s prolific shooters.

The nationally televised action tips off at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Toyota Center.

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