Through the season’s first 30 games, Houston and Utah were considered surprises for all the wrong reasons. The Rockets’ defense, vital to their near-Finals run last year, went AWOL. Ditto for the Jazz, who have augmented that underachievement with an anemic offense that ranks 24th in the league.
The pair of Western Conference misfits met in Houston on Monday, and it was there the Rockets proved their season might finally be turning around for the better in their 102-97 win over Utah.
Harden is the combustible gas fueling the Rockets to life. Four nights after dropping a 50-point triple-double on the Lakers, the reigning Kia MVP netted 47 points at Utah’s expense. Everything is working for Harden — even his double-step-back jumper that had social media up in arms.
Dubious dribble moves aside, Harden (39.5 ppg) has been nothing short of superb over Houston’s four-game winning streak. The Rockets’ defense hasn’t been terrible, either, ranking a respectable 13th in that span after sitting at 25th through Dec. 9.
As for the Jazz (14-17), they’ve yet to find Donovan Mitchell’s jump shot (8 for 22 Monday, 42.6 percent on the season) or any other source of reliable offensive output.
For now, Houston seems at least on the verge of a permanent answer, while Utah — now 14th in the West — is still riddled with questions.
Thirty years ago, the league was still struggling to find an answer for Larry Joe Bird, whose Celtics had dominated the East to the tune of four straight Finals appearances.
Fast forward to 2018, and you’ll find Kevin Durant tormenting defenses on a similarly dominant super team. Fittingly, the two-time Finals MVP passed No. 33 for 33rd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Warriors teammate Stephen Curry, meanwhile, splashed past 15,000 career points with (you guessed it) an absurdly deep 3-pointer.
A 2001 Draft pick, Jamal Crawford has been in the league a while. But the three-time Kia Sixth Man Award winner knows of and respects his historic predecessors.
— NBA (@NBA) December 18, 2018
Crawford’s pregame homage to Walt Frazier must have pleased the Madison Square Garden gods, because they gave the 38-year-old the foresight to dish out a career-high 14 assists in Phoenix’s 128-110 victory.
It’s not the first time MSG has witnessed Crawford set a personal best. The former Knick’s career best of 52 points also occurred at New York, albeit for the home team.
Minnesota didn’t waste much time with Sacramento, jumping out to a 36-point first-half lead before cruising to a 132-105 win.
This wasn’t a case of just one guy torching the Kings. Nine different Timberwolves scored in double-figures, with four of them — Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones — winding up with double-doubles in the process.
Shoes come off. It happens. What normally doesn’t follow is Taj Gibson’s apparel-assisted brand of defense.
Sacramento didn’t have a fun night, but Troy Williams had himself a highlight by faking out not one, not two, but three defenders with this pivot gem.