The Rockets hit a season-high 20 three-pointers to beat the Timberwolves 120-110 and clinch a playoff spot.
The Rockets also broke the NBA record for three-pointers attempted in a season as well as the NBA record for games in a season with 10+ three-pointers made at 52 (previously 51 by New York in 2012-13).
In addition to raining from the outside, Dwight Howard lit up the paint with one alley-oop after another. Howard scored 18 points in his second game back from his extended absence with edema in his right knee, and while 18 total points isn’t necessarily awe-inspiring, the way is scored them was.
On multiple occasions, Howard set picks for both James Harden and Josh Smith and they found him on the roll with perfectly placed lobs. One Smith lob was even so perfectly placed that it just went right off the backboard and in for three points. Howard also caught a lob from Pablo Prigioni and Harden hit him with one from behind the three-point line to punctuate the night.
“I was telling the guys that on the offensive end, I’m going to find my rhythm. I’m not really concerned about the post-ups and all that stuff. That will come later on down the road. The biggest thing for me is to get into a lot of pick and rolls, making sure James (Harden) gets free. Then also, making sure that everybody else gets their easy touches and shots. All of my stuff will come, but I just want to make sure I do a great job on the defensive end,” Howard said.
Smith finished with a near triple-double starting for Donatas Motiejunas who will miss at least a week with lower back pain. Smith’s 16 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds gave him his fourth double-double as a Rocket.
Jason Terry also stepped up for the injured Patrick Beverley and hit a season-high five threes.
“Josh almost had a triple double tonight. He was fantastic. Jet was five for six from the three point line. There was a lot of good stuff,” Kevin McHale said.
James Harden finished with his league-leading 31st game with 30+ points behind a 16-point third quarter. He went 6-12 from beyond-the-arc and tied his season-high with five steals.
“What made me comfortable was Dwight telling me before he got back that whenever he comes back just continue doing what I’m doing and that gave me the confidence to just go out there and play the way I’ve been playing and don’t really change nothing,” Harden said.
The Rockets stormed out of the gate with an 11-2 run and ultimately took a 31-22 lead at the end of the first. The Rockets led 60-50 after two and improved to 40-5 when leading at the half. They also improved to a 39-6 record when leading through the third and never trailed to pick up their seventh wire-to-wire victory this season (sixth at home).
“We’re a team on a mission. We’re a team that doesn’t make excuses. We want to be able to come in each and every game and be mentally prepared for the post season no matter who we play,” Josh Smith said.
The Rockets hit the road for an afternoon game in Washington on Sunday.