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Houston Rockets

Takeaways from Houston Rockets' statement win over Denver Nuggets

It's not that long ago that James Harden and the Rockets sat in 14th place in the Western Conference.

After a convincing win over the first-place Denver Nuggets, the Rockets continue to look like the contender most thought they would be at the start of the season.

Here are five takeaways from the statement win over the Wetern Conference leaders.

Houston can hang with anyone

The Rockets are now 2-0 against the Denver Nuggets. They are the only team in the West to beat them twice.

The Rockets are 2-0 against the Golden State Warriors. They are the only team in the West to beat them twice.

They are 2-0 against LeBron James. They are 2-0 against the Indiana Pacers.

They have wins over the Thunder, Celtics, Jazz and Blazers.

The only contenders they don't have wins over are the Raptors, Bucks and 76ers. There's a good reason for that... they haven't played yet.

This is a Rockets team racking up wins against the very best the NBA has to offer and gaining confidence every day.

James Harden, breaker of ankles

Before we get into Harden's overall game - which was once again fabulous - let's take a moment to give our condolensces to Jamal Murray's ankles.

Nevermind that he was once again fouled while shooting a 3, something he's done more than any other TEAM this season.

You can put this right up there with that time Harden put Wesley Johnson on skates.

James Harden, premiere play maker

James Harden scored 32 points and it lowered his scoring average. That's how lights out he has been putting the ball through the nylon this season. It actually snapped a streak of 12 straight games in which he raised his scoring average.

The scoring has been so outrageous of slate that it's easy to overloo the fact that he's averaging over 8.5 assists per game.

This marked his 10th game this season in which he finished with at least 30 points and 10 assists. Nobody else has done it more than three times.

Here's a running tally of his 14 dimes against Denver:

  • Clint Capela layup at the rim
  • P.J. Tucker 3-pointer
  • Clint Capela layup at the rim
  • Clint Capela layup at the rim
  • P.J. Tucker 3-pointer
  • Clint Capela 7-foot hook shot
  • P.J. Tucker 3-pointer
  • Clint Capela layup at the rim
  • Clint Capela dunk
  • Gerald Green 3-pointer
  • Gerald Green 3-pointer
  • James Ennis 3-pointer
  • Clint Capela dunk
  • Clint Capela layup at the rim

14 assists for 34 points and all but one of them either at the rim or from beyond the arc. When it comes to basketball and not currency, every dime is not created equal. Harden doesn't just pick up assists, he sets his teammates up for the highest valued shots on the floor.

P.J. Tucker, flamethrower

It's impossible to overstate the importance of P.J. Tucker to the Houston Rockets. In addition to guarding all five positions while serving as one of the league's best "no nonsese" guys, Tucker will make you pay for allowing Harden to lull you to sleep.

Exhibit A: this win over the Nuggets. With Tucker on the floor, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by 27, the best plus-minus of any Houston player. In the 10 minutes he sat, the Rockets were outscored by 15.

The grizzled vet canned 7 of 11 from beyond the arc to finish with a season-high 21 points and setting a career high for made 3s in a single game. Tucker has now made 30s threes off passes from Harden this season, more than any other Rockets player.

Clint Capela, the Malone to Harden's Stockton

For a minute, it looked like Capela - not Harden - was about to lead the Rockets in scoring which is crazy to even consider a legitimate possibility given the reigning MVP's form of late.

Though he may have fallen just short, the Swiss centre did attempt the same number of shots as Harden, the second time in three games he's played an especially active role on the offensive end. In last week's win over the Warriors dropped 29 points on 19 FG attempts.

Even if the vast majority of Capela's offence is catching lobs from Harden on rim runs, it's still good to see him utlized more often and venture out of his comfort zone a bit more. He showed some nice touch on a baby hook and also had several looks in transition, key against a Denver team that's used to putting the pressure on opponents rather than the other way around.

As we saw in series wins over Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns in last year's postseason, an engaged Capela is critical to Houston reaching its full potential. With so many All-Star calibre bigs out west, like Nikola Jokic in this game, having somone capable of answering on both ends is worth its weight in Rocket fuel.

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