Houston passed the first test.
The Rockets NBA’s have the best record since Jan. 1 (19-6 coming into Tuesday night) but a lot of that came against soft competition. That was the easy part, the next couple weeks come a series of tests against the league’s best — from that we’ll get a better sense of just how legitimate this Rockets team is. (Technically you could say they didn’t pass the first test, losing to the Clippers last week.)
They looked legit on Tuesday — they attacked mismatches, got balanced offense and never trailed to the Miami Heat on their way to a 106-103 victory at home.
Miami was on the second night of a back-to-back and it showed at points. LeBron James looked like a guy who had expended 61 points of energy the night before and had 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting, plus he went scoreless in the fourth quarter.
To add to his painful night, late in the game he got hit in the face (there were some reports that LeBron re-broke his nose but that has been shot down by the team). It was on a play late where, down three with 13 seconds left the Heat were trying to defend with pressure and force a turnover. They did, James Harden threw an ill-advised pass down court to Howard, LeBron went up for the steal and in so got an inadvertent elbow from Howard in the face.
Immediately after that he tried to take a game-tying step-back three with the broken nose — on the switch Dwight Howard was on him but that worked for Houston because LeBron needed a three and Howard is mobile enough and long enough that he could contest anything. The shot missed.
Miami’s problem wasn’t LeBron. He also saw doubles but when he passed out guys were not knocking down shots. Chris Bosh was 1-of-5 on the night and just seemed to coast through the game. The only guy to really step up was Michael Beasley, who had 24 off the bench.
Houston went right at the two weaknesses of the Miami, getting points out of their center and point guards.
Howard had another strong game — 22 points on 13 shots, plus 16 rebounds. He was also 6-of-8 from the free throw line, pretty much negating the hack-a-Howard idea.
At the point Patrick Beverly had 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, hitting 5-of-8 from three (he struggled shooting once he ventured inside the arc). He also was his pesky self on defense all night, even harassing (and annoying) LeBron at points. James Harden had 21; Terrence Jones added 19 points and 12 boards.
What the Rockets really had was balance — all five starters scored in double digits. The Rockets shot 51.3 percent on one of the better defensive teams in the NBA (when they want to be). Houston attacked with 33 shots at the rim but they were also 7-of-11 from the midrange as everything seemed to fall for them.
Starting Friday the Rockets schedule is: Indiana, Portland, at Oklahoma City, at Chicago, at Miami. That’s a heck of a challenge.
But the Rockets passed the first test.