Houston's last game signaled the unsurprising recovery of James Harden from one of his worst. The next could indicate the Rockets are back from a forgettable start.
A return to .500 is on the line Saturday night, and it shouldn't be difficult to get there against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.
In Tuesday's 110-105 loss in Brooklyn, Harden finished with a season-low 10 points, going 2 of 9 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3-point range. He had nine assists but wiped most of that out with seven turnovers.
A night later in Washington, Harden led the Rockets (11-12) to a 109-103 win with 42 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“Great players rise to the occasion,” teammate Jason Terry said. “(Tuesday) was probably one of his worst games he's ever played to date and so for him it was all about coming out tonight, being aggressive and getting off to a great start.”
Turnovers have been an issue – at least on paper – with an additional seven against the Wizards and 19 in his last three games, but Harden sees two ways of looking at it.
“You've got passive turnovers and you've got aggressive turnovers where you're trying to create and we just make mistakes,” Harden said. “I would rather live with the aggressive turnovers than passive and being soft.”
It's hard to argue given the team's results lately. For Houston, a 6-2 span has it in position to return to .500 for the first time since falling to 4-4 at the start of a four-game losing streak last month that cost former coach Kevin McHale his job.
Over the last eight games, those turnovers are up slightly for the Rockets – 18.1 after posting 17.1 over a 5-10 start – but they're averaging 109.9 points and shooting 48.8 percent after being at 99.7 and 41.5 through those first 15.
Houston has won five of seven meetings over the previous two seasons, though both losses have come at home. Harden has averaged 32.6 points in those games while shooting 53.9 percent.
Los Angeles (3-20) has lost five in a row and 12 of 13 after Friday's 109-87 defeat in San Antonio. The Lakers are 1-6 entering the finale of a season-high trip.
D'Angelo Russell seems to be taking some of the offensive load off Kobe Bryant's shoulders, but the team results still aren't there. The rookie had a season-high 24 points against the Spurs, two nights after scoring a then-career high 23 in Minnesota.
The shift is evident with Russell attempting 43 shots in the last two games to Bryant's 25, and while Russell is still shooting 39.5 percent in the last eight games, his coach sees plenty of promise.
“He looked more comfortable,” coach Byron Scott said. “He looks like he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Controlled the tempo for the most part, ran the offense, got our guys where they needed to be. … He's put together two really, really good games, so I want to see if he can continue to do that.”
Part of the focus on Russell could also be because Jordan Clarkson missed the San Antonio game after spraining his right ankle in Minnesota. The guard isn't expected to play Saturday.
Houston's Trevor Ariza missed the game against Washington with a bruised lower back suffered against Brooklyn and is considered questionable. Corey Brewer has filled in well with 18.5 points per game on 53.6 percent shooting in the last two.
- Corey Brewer
- D'Angelo Russell
- Houston Rockets
- James Harden
- Jason Terry
- Jordan Clarkson
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Trevor Ariza