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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Men's Basketball

Rockets’ win streak halts at six, still atop the West


Last week the Rockets knocked off Lebron James and the Cavaliers with a 117-113 victory. Houston has scored at least 100 points in eight consecutive games and in all but two of the team’s games in 2017. | Wikimedia Commons

A contagious case of winning fever that first resulted in an Astros World Series victory earlier this month has seemingly been contracted by the city’s basketball team, the Houston Rockets.

Until dropping Tuesday’s game to the Toronto Raptors 129-113, the Rockets were winners of six consecutive games in a streak that begin Nov. 1 — the same night the city celebrated its first major championship in 22 years.

The shots simply didn’t seem to fall for Houston, which manifested just 30 percent from 3-point range, while the Raptors controlled the flow of the game by getting to the free-throw line at will.

Nevertheless, Houston earned a 3-1 record over the last week that saw a thrilling victory against the Cavs and wire-to-wire wins against the Grizzlies and Pacers.

Standout performers

James Harden, off to an MVP-caliber start this season, led the team with 34.75 points and 11.75 assists per game over the last four games. During this time, Harden led all NBA shooting guards in 3-point (4.5) and free throw makes (11.8), while also adding a respectable 6.5 rebounds and 1.75 steals.

Overall, the All-Star guard is putting up 30.7 points and 10.3 assists per game this season, both of which are league-leading marks.

With Chris Paul sidelined due to knee soreness, Eric Gordon, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year award-recipient, is thriving in his place. The guard averaged 20 points per contest last week due to his proactive 3-point shooting and ability to get to the free-throw line.

Despite being tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player most nights, forward Trevor Ariza is averaging 1.46 steals per game — the sixth-best mark among players at the small forward position.

Suns set up as easy opponent 

Up next for the Rockets are the Phoenix Suns on the road before coming back home to face off against the Denver Nuggets.

The Suns possess an isolation-based offense that is designed to get scoring guards Devin Booker and T.J. Warren space to run the offense. With Booker and Warren running the show and averaging 42 points per game, ball movement is being hindered as seen by the Suns’ NBA-worst assist totals.

Add in the fact that Phoenix is statistically the worst defensive team in the league, and the high-scoring Rockets should not have any trouble putting up points Thursday.

Bearing down against the Grizzlies

The toughest on paper in the following week appears to be against Memphis in a rematch of Saturday’s tilt, which will wrap up the four-game season series against the Grizzlies in just under a month.

Memphis got the best of the Rockets in two out of three previous meetings, limiting Houston to 40 percent shooting from the field in losses, including just 30 percent beyond the arc. Memphis is routinely an upper-tier defensive team, and 2017 is no different, ranking in the top five in nearly every category.

Beside its defense, ball security has been a point of pride for the Grizzlies, who average a league-low 13.8 turnovers per game. In wins against the Rockets, that number decreases to 10.5 turnovers per game, though the Grizzlies coughed the ball up 19 times Saturday, highlighting the importance of this stat.

From a personnel standpoint, the Grizzlies are led by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.

Gasol is the clear-cut leader on the squad in 2017, pacing the team per game with 33.9 minutes, 18.9 points, 9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Conley, a defensive specialist, finds himself just behind Gasol with 17.1 points per game while dishing out a team-high 4.1 assists.

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