LOS ANGELES -- Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff wanted his group to get the bad taste out of their mouths after a beatdown at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And there is no better way to feel good about yourself than by facing the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Rockets beat up on the Lakers on Sunday night, winning 112-95 at Staples Center for their sixth victory in seven games.
“We wanted to bounce back from the last game with some aggression,” said James Harden, who was fantastic with a 31-point night. “We allowed them to score too easy, and in the third quarter we turned it up. We got stops and made shots and that was it."
Houston dominated in so many areas: points in the paint (70-46), rebounds (51-36), offensive rebounds (11-3) and second-chance points (15-2). We haven’t seen the same Rockets team every night -- hence the 22-20 record and seventh-place standing in the Western Conference. Yet this is a good team when everything is working -- when they are moving the ball and rebounding and hitting shots consistently.
Harden scored the majority of his baskets at the rim, something he does as one the best in the league. He was 6-of-8 on contested shots on Sunday night. He had struggled of late from 3-point range (8-of-28 in the last three games), but he found his range in this one, making 4 of 7 from deep. Harden connected on three consecutive 3-pointers in the decisive third quarter, in which the Rockets outscored the Lakers 34-18.
Trevor Ariza also contributed to the big third quarter with eight of his 13 points. Dwight Howard laughed off the boos and jeers from a bitter Laker crowd to produce 14 points and 15 rebounds despite a sore right oblique muscle. Howard also was a game-high plus-25.
“We attacked the basket,” Howard said. “When we attack the basket, we make things happen. We have to continue to do a better job of just attacking and putting teams on their heels.”
Bickerstaff gave rookie power forward Montrezl Harrell early minutes, and he grabbed a career-high eight rebounds to go with 10 points. It was Harrell's first time scoring in double digits since the second game of the season.
Clint Capela, the power forward, added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Yes, things were working for the Rockets.
“It’s definitely fun playing the right way,” said guard Ty Lawson, who came off the bench to score 12 points. “It’s a positive to get wins right now, and we have to keep it going. We had to bounce back after the Cleveland game.”
Now Houston faces another big test: The Clippers, winners of 10 of their last 11 games, host the Rockets on Monday night.
“Just continue to play the right way and get stops,” Harden said. “Offensively move our bodies, set screens, make shots.”
Consistency has bothered this team most of the season, but one thing is constant: beating the Clippers. The Rockets have won their last four against the Clippers, including both meetings this season, in which Houston averaged 51 rebounds and 108 points.
“No matter who it is that we’re playing, we have to get comfortable with ourselves,” Bickerstaff said. “So whoever you’re playing against, you have to step up and do the same thing over and over again. That’s the way you win; that’s the way you build consistency and form your identity. You have to be the same team every night.”