James Harden, Rockets Blitz Lakers From Three in Blowout Win

Michael Shapiro

The Rockets' three-heavy ethos is obviously no secret eight years into the James Harden era, and Houston has continued to push the limits in Orlando. The Rockets banged home 21 triples on 57 attempts in Thursday's 113-97 win over the Lakers, finishing the contest with an almost laughable margin compared to Los Angeles. Houston won the threes battle 21-2 on Thursday. Harden and Co. have now hit 19-plus threes in an NBA-record four straight games. As Russell Westbrook sat on Thursday, the Rockets had even more incentive to pull the trigger from beyond the arc. Their greatest strength was on full display in against the best team in the Western Conference.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's victory: 

Harden Delivers MVP Effort

It wasn't quite an MVP battle on Thursday night as LeBron James sat out due to a sore right groin, but Harden certainly held up his end of the bargain. The soon-to-be three-time scoring champion was in vintage form in the win over Los Angeles, falling two rebounds short of a triple-double as he tallied 39 points and 12 assists. Harden was as efficient as ever on Thursday. He needed just 19 shots for nearly 40 points, and he added 12 free throws to a 5-10 mark from three. It's hard to ask for much more from Houston's leading man. 

Harden received some much-needed breathing room on Thursday. He was bottled by Portland's defense for much of Tuesday's loss, forced to become largely a decoy as the Blazers trapped on a majority of possessions. Los Angeles opted for single coverage on Harden throughout much of the first three quarters, and it quickly paid the price. Harden remains one of the greatest offensive forces in basketball history. Any defender is at risk of being on the wrong side of a 40-point night. 

Supporting Cast Lets it Fly

An increased onus was placed on the Rockets' supporting cast with both Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon out on Thursday, and Harden's running mates were up to the task. Five non-Harden Rockets hit multiple threes vs. Los Angeles, led by a 5-10 performance from beyond the arc by Ben McLemore. Danuel House and Jeff Green combined for 35 points. Robert Covington was a plus-29 in 33 minutes. An internal green light is a prerequisite for Rockets' rotation players, and this current group has that in spades. Their confidence was evident from the opening minutes on Thursday. 

"[McLemore] and Jeff Green played unbelievable in the first half," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said postgame. "They've been playing great for us. Those are two guys that should be big contributors for us in the playoffs."

Rockets Battle Down Low

The Rockets were nearly doubled in paint points on Thursday, but the metric obscures Houston's strong defensive performance against Anthony Davis and Los Angeles' collection of big men. The Rockets swarmed Davis throughout Thursday's contest, often sending a double team as the shot clock wound down. Davis was held to just 17 points on eight shots, and he committed seven turnovers. Houston was able to place its full defensive attention on Davis with James out of the contest.

Double teams weren't solely responsible for the quiet night from Davis. P.J. Tucker shined as a low-post defender, holding his ground despite ceding more than six inches. Tucker is the NBA's preeminent brick wall. Even the best big men struggle to gain an inch. Tucker remains one of the most valuable role players in basketball, and he got the better of Davis on multiple occasions on Thursday

Up Next: vs. Kings on Sunday

The Rockets will have a rare two days off in Orlando before they take the floor on Sunday night, and Houston could continue to roll considering its upcoming schedule. The Rockets face the Kings on Sunday before a back-to-back against the Spurs and Pacers. They'll close the seeding-game slate on Aug. 14 against Joel Embiid and the 76ers. 

Tip-off against Sacramento on Sunday is slated for 7 p.m. CT. 

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