Harden-Westbrook Duo Shines as Rockets Cruise Past Heat

Michael Shapiro

The Rockets dynamic duo dominated the Heat on Wednesday as Houston ended its three-game losing streak with a 117-108 win at the Toyota Center. James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 46.5% from the field, while Houston's defense was active and engaged from the opening tip. The Rockets' win was another example of their championship ceiling as they advanced to 12–6 in 2019-20. 

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday's victory.

Harden Capitalizes on Breather

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra opted to eschew the defensive tactic used by the last three Rockets opponents on Wednesday. While the Nuggets, Clippers and Mavericks doubled James Harden on nearly every half-court possession, Miami opted for more traditional tactics, choosing to double only late in the shot clock.

"If you're trying to make up things in the shootaround or limited film session and it's not something you usually do, you're just asking to get destroyed," Spoelstra said pregame. "He's too good of a basketball mind and savant."

Perhaps Spoelstra would have been well served to replicate Houston's prior opponents. Harden capitalized on the (relative) lack of attention on Wednesday, finishing the night with 34 points (24 in the first half) on nine-of-22 shooting. 

The two-time scoring champion shot beyond the arc was affected by the double teams from beyond the arc in previous games. He often rushed into early-shot-clock triples, unaware when he would receive his next opportunity to let if fly. Miami's relaxed defense allowed Harden to find his rhythm, reverting to his lethal isolation step-backs. Perhaps more teams will diverge from Spoelstra and send a string of doubles at Harden throughout 2019-20.

Clark Provides Bench Boost

Second-year forward Gary Clark made his fourth appearance of the year on Wednesday night, logging a season-high 29 minutes. The Cincinnati product made the most of his extended time on the floor. Clark finished the evening with 12 points and seven rebounds, sporting a plus-seven in the Rockets' victory. He logged significant minutes as a small-ball five, and Clark held his own on the defensive end against talented Heat center Bam Adebayo.

"[Clark] did a good job, he was ready," Westbrook said postgame. "He made some big shots, made a lot of plays that aren’t seen on the stat sheet.”

Clark's minutes will likely be squeezed when Clint Capela returns to the floor after missing Wednesday's contest with an illness. But it may be prudent for D'Antoni to give Clark more playing time than he's received prior to Wednesday. 82 games is a slog, and Houston will need to fill plenty of minutes from a light crop of frontcourt players.

Westbrook Efficient in Win

Russell Westbrook reverted to his Oklahoma City days on Wednesday night, attempting 15 mid-range jumpers in the Rockets' win. And while his shot chart was anathema to Morey-ball, the Rockets can't help but be happy with the results. Westbrook shot over 50% from the field for the fourth time this season, scoring 27 points with nine rebounds and seven assists. He kick-started Houston's offense in the first quarter with multiple transition buckets, and the Heat's backcourt couldn't contain the 2016-17 MVP with Jimmy Butler out of the lineup. Wednesday night provided further evidence of the athletic boost Westbrook provides the Rockets compared to 2018-19.

Up Next: vs. Hawks on Saturday

The Rockets will host their second straight Eastern Conference squad on Saturday as Trae Young and the Hawks visit the Toyota Center. Harden and Co. will have an opportunity to light up the scoreboard on Saturday, squaring off against the NBA's No. 29 defense. Hawks forward John Collins will miss Saturday's matchup as he continues to serve a 25-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Tip-off in Houston is slated for 7 p.m. ET. 


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