Dwight Howard returned and notched a double-double. Donatas Motiejunas scored a new career-high 25 points. James Harden messed around and got a triple-double.
All this in a 108-96 win over the Denver Nuggets.
Dwight Howard jumped for the opening tip for the first time in the last 11 games after sitting out with a right knee strain. While the Rockets were able to go 8-3 in that stretch thanks to James Harden averaging 29.1 per game, they are 9-1 when Howard starts and are a far more imposing team on both ends of the court.
Howard made his presence felt immediately by scoring Houston’s first points of the game on an acrobatic up-and-under layup. He went on to play nearly 30 minutes and put up a line of 26 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. He also grabbed his 10,000th career rebound, making him the third youngest player to reach that mark.
“Dwight did fantastic,” Kevin McHale said. “I was kinda wondering what kind of rhythm he’d have. He looked great out there. He covered up the holes for us defensively. He ran the court really well. I didn’t really see any ill effects.”
However, the Rockets went 6-26 FG (23%) in the first quarter and Denver ran up a 10-point lead. That eventually lead got as high as 14 before Donatas Motiejunas showed off both his inside and outside game. D-Mo hit his usual turnarounds in the post, but then took it outside for two 3-pointers, the second of which tied the game.
“This is our first time with Dwight back on the court, we were trying to re acclimate him and get used to what he does for our offense. That’s probably the reason why we had a slow start, but once we got into the flow of the game and started to figure things out again we saw a match up that we did like with D-Mo and we kind of went at that a little bit,” Trevor Ariza said.
Motiejunas has averaged 15.2 points per game over the last 10 games. He continued his roll tonight, setting a new career-high of 25 points (previously 21 vs. Sacramento on 11/26/2014). He has now scored double-digits in seven straight (the longest stretch of his career) and has three games with 20 or more points this season.
After his heroic performance in Thursday’s overtime win in Sacramento, it didn’t seem there was any more James Harden could do this season to make his case as a legitimate MVP candidate. Tonight, he did everything. He threw lobs to Dwight, he hit shots, he got to the free throw line and he grabbed boards.
As he sat one rebound away from a triple-double in the game’s closing minute, his teammates made room under the basket to make sure he had room to grab any miss. This message was apparently not relayed to Troy Daniels, who not once, but twice went up and knocked away what would have been Harden’s tenth board.
“I almost tackled Troy out of bounds trying to get that last rebound. I mean, everybody in the arena knew what was going on, but Troy. I’m lucky I got it at the end. I definitely had to talk to him about that,” Harden joked.
Daniels was apologetic (after all, he was just hustling after the ball), but thankfully his over eagerness didn’t matter as Harden caught a Denver air ball right as time expired to capture his third-career triple double.
“[The triple-double] is nice. It just means I’m all over the place in a good way. I’m rebounding the basketball and making plays for my teammates and scoring. That’s my job every single night and that’s what I try to go out there and do for the most part,” Harden said.
The Rockets will head to Denver to play the Nuggets again on Wednesday.