Fired-up Rockets' sole concern is title

Houston guard James Harden going for a shot as New Orleans guard DeAndre Liggins defends at the Toyota Centre. The Rockets' 59th win beat the previous regular-season mark set in their 1994 championship year.
Houston guard James Harden going for a shot as New Orleans guard DeAndre Liggins defends at the Toyota Centre. The Rockets' 59th win beat the previous regular-season mark set in their 1994 championship year.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • You would assume after breaking their franchise record for the most number of wins in a National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season that the Houston Rockets would be giving themselves a pat on the back, followed by the typical self-congratulatory postings on social media.

Not this team though.

And coach Mike D'Antoni praised his team for only having eyes on the biggest prize of all - this year's NBA Championship - after James Harden hit a game-high 27 points, as the Rockets (59-14) extended their winning streak to eight games with a 114-91 win over the New Orleans Pelicans (43-31) on Saturday at the Toyota Centre.

"They didn't care," D'Antoni said. "That's good that they don't care. They want it all... They know what's at stake, and they know what we need to do. They know what we'll be judged on in the play-offs."

Houston set a new franchise record with their 59th win, their 15th straight home victory, and bested the mark set by the 1993-94 NBA champions.

The team's exploits this term have been exemplified by Most Valuable Player front runner Harden, who crossed the 2,000-point plateau for the fourth consecutive season, and the first to do so this term.

 

  • 59

    Regular season wins Houston have, a team record.

But he reiterated post-match that he and his team-mates had bigger fish to fry. "It's a good team accomplishment in the regular season but we've got bigger goals than that," Harden said. "So it's just a step to where we want to go."

Clint Capela produced a monster effort on both ends, posting 18 points, 16 boards and a career-high-tying six blocks in an entertaining battle with Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis, who totalled 25 points.

Eric Gordon added 19 points, while Gerald Green and Ryan Anderson combined for 30 points off the Houston bench.

Houston turned a 9-0 run into a 13-point lead and, when Harden scored in transition with 4min 41sec left in the first quarter, the Rockets led 21-6 with Harden and Capela accounting for 18 points.

All Houston lacked in the first was perimeter proficiency, with the Rockets connecting on just one three-pointer in the first quarter.

They had no such issues in the second quarter, drilling six-of-11 three-pointers and their lead stretched to 27 points at the intermission.

The 37-point Pelicans showing was the lowest-scoring first half by a Houston opponent this term.

More ominously, the Rockets played without Chris Paul, who sat out with a sore hamstring and Harden sounded a warning that the Rockets had yet to fully take off.

"We haven't done anything. The No. 1 (NBA) seed is cool and all, but we've got bigger things to worry about. We don't have time to relax or take deep breaths," he added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Fired-up Rockets' sole concern is title'. Print Edition | Subscribe