While it may have taken awhile for the Rockets to get going, once they did, they made easy work of the youthful Timberwolves, 113-101 before an enthusiastic Mexico City crowd. Houston remained undefeated in Mexico City, now 2-0, after turning a scant four-point halftime lead into a 21-point second half-advantage to equal Toronto and Memphis at 7-1 with the league’s best record.
Dwight Howard returned from a one-game absence with flu-like symptoms, to dominate the paint with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, not to mention countless altered shots at the rim. Even better, he and James Harden combined for just a single turnover. Houston came into the game, second in the NBA for most turnovers per game at just over 19 per contest. They had just 13 in the game, that, along with their strong work around the rim defensively, made it rather easy to eventually pull away from the Wolves.
It was another night where Harden could not find the range on his shot, missing 15 of 23 attempts. He shot just 35 percent, already the fourth time in eight games, he’s shot worse than 36 percent in a game. He did that just 13 times all last season.
But it was also a night where he picked up 10 assists. It was already his third 10 assist game of the season, something he did only 12 times last season. Each double-figure assist game has come away from Houston and each has come in a Rockets victory. Only John Wall, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo have more 10-plus assist games this season. Harden’s 7.5 assists per game place him 6th in the league.
The Rockets played their sixth game with at least one starter missing, but got a big lift from a pair of rookie reserves. Terrence Jones missed his fourth game with a leg contusion and Pat Beverley was out for a fifth time with his hamstring injury.Kostas Papanikolaou and Tarik Black provided a jolt of offense, combining to make nine of their 14 shots for 24 points off the bench.
Papanikolaou found his 3-point shooting stroke, making all four of his 3-point attempts, despite coming into the game as just a 28 percent (8-of-29) 3-point marksman on the season. He also had four assists in a game, three of which came on consecutive possessions in the first half that resulted a three point play for Howard, a 3-pointer in the corner for Harden and then a dunk for Harden.
Black did was he has done since arriving in Houston, throwing everything he has into rebounding and finishing at the rim. He was 5-6 for 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.
It wasn’t just the rookies that kept things rolling offensively in the Rockets highest scoring game of the season. Jason Terry, continues to show that he still has more to give. He launched three 3-pointers and made them all and is now shooting 55 percent (18-of-33) on the season.
Houston scored the first five points of the second half, then minutes later put together a 19-6 run to extend their lead to 87-70, before coasting to the victory.
Up next: Houston (7-1) hosts Philadelphia (0-7) on Friday night at Toyota Center. The Sixers are the last remaining winless team in the NBA, and this is the second and final meeting of the season between the teams. The Rockets beat the Sixers, 104-93 earlier this season in Philadelphia.