For much of the night the Rockets looked lifeless. They spent much of the night getting out-classed, by not just a lottery team, but a lottery team missing its top seven scorers. With 2:48 to play Luke Babbit hit a floater to give the New Orleans Pelicans a 104-96 lead. They didn’t score a single point the rest of the game, and the Rockets closed the game with a 15-0 run, winning the game 111-104, getting a step closer to clinching homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“We kind of had to pull a rabbit out of our hat tonight,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
Houston led 22-20 after a quarter, but New Orleans put up 39 in the second, knocking down six of ten three-point tries, hitting five of six at one point, to take a 13 point halftime lead. Four Pelicans scored in double figures, led by Alexis Ajinca’s 13. James Harden led the Rockets with 12 points and seven assists.
“We had a stretch in the second quarter where we got so discombobulated,” McHale said. They were getting threes, and we were switching the wrong stuff. We did everything humanly possible wrong in the second quarter.”
The Rockets outscored New Orleans by three in the third quarter to make it a 10 point game going to the fourth, where they scored 39 points and sealed their 53rd win of the season.
Patrick Beverly, back after missing eight games with a torn meniscus, keyed the fourth quarter rally. He scored 14 of his 20 points in the game’s final period. He hit four of five three-point attempts. Dwight Howard also made his return to the lineup after also missing eight games, and scored 13 points.
“I played them probably more than I really wanted to by about six to eight minutes, but they both said they were feeling fine and wanted to win the game, and we needed that win,” McHale said.
While the Rockets played with Howard and Beverly, they were without Chandler Parsons (wrist, hip), and Francisco Garcia (back). That opened up minutes at small forward, and after starting Omri Casspi then trying Jordan Hamilton, McHale turned to Troy Daniels who played in 13 of the game’s final 15 minutes after playing in 44 minutes earlier in the day in a Rio Grand Valley Vipers playoff game. He didn’t arrive at Toyota Center until 6:30. He only knocked down one of five shots, but he helped spread the floor, allowing James Harden and Jeremy Lin more room to operate in the lane.
Lin finished with 18 points on eight shots, while Harden scored a game high 33 and dished out 10 assists.
With the win, the Rockets magic number for the four seed falls to 1. Portland closes the season with games against Golden State and the Clippers. If they win both, the Rockets need to win one of their last two games. The first comes Monday when they host San Antionio, and the team closes the regular season in New Orleans on Wednesday night.
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