Harden: We’re finally getting there defensively

James Harden hailed his team’s defensive effort after the ‘micro-ball’ Houston Rockets blew out the Memphis Grizzlies to notch their fifth straight win.

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On a night when the Rockets scored 140 points, all anyone wanted to talk about was their defense.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for 63 points as the Rockets sailed to their fifth successive victory, 140-112 over the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

preview image 1:07 Highlights of the Memphis Grizzlies’ trip to the Houston Rockets in Week 19 of the NBA

Harden piled up 30 points without playing in the fourth quarter and Westbrook, who had 33, sat down for good with about six minutes left. The duo had 46 points by half-time as Houston built a 73-47 lead.

Although the Rockets let up a bit on defense with a huge lead after half-time, coach Mike D’Antoni raved about his team’s effort before the break.

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“It was just very good activity getting in lanes,” D’Antoni said. “Our defense, rebounding, boxing out, everything in that first half was just really good.”

Harden echoed his coach’s praise of the team’s defense.

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“We have got a special group,” he said on-court after the game. “After the trade, we got Robert (Covington). Then we got Jeff (Green) and DeMarre (Carroll). Now we are all in a string. Defensively we are active. We used our quickness to our advantage. Offensively, we shoot the ball very well and we attack. Good weapons on both sides of the ball.

“We’re finally getting there defensively and that’s what it’s going to take for us to win games,” Harden then told reporters after the game. “If we want to get to where we want to go we have to engage and lock in on the defensive end, and we did that.”

preview image 2:02 Russell Westbrook erupted scoring 33 points in 34 minutes on 15-of-24 shooting with nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals against Memphis

The Rockets traded starting center Clint Capela on February 4 to kickstart their ‘micro-ball’ era. Giving up size to every opponent they have since faced, Houston have won seven of nine games. Westbrook has thrived in those games, scoring 34.0 points per game on 56.9 per cent shooting.

“He is comfortable,” Harden said of Westbrook. “Once a superstar like that is comfortable, he is able to do things a lot of players in the league can’t do. He has more spacing, he has shooters around him, all he has to do is go out there and be Russell Westbrook and he is doing that.”

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Against Memphis, Westbrook also had nine rebounds and eight assists after missing Monday’s game against the New York Knicks with a sore thumb. It was his second straight 30-point game and fourth in his last five.

Asked if the Rockets can sustain their rich vein of form with their revamped style of play, Gametime analyst Dennis Scott said, although ‘micro-ball’ has drawn the best out of Westbrook, there are aspects of Houston’s play he is worried about.

Russell Westbrook soars for a tomahawk dunk against the Lakers 3:07 Gametime analyst Dennis Scott considers the pros and cons of the Houston Rockets’ ‘micro-ball’ style of play

“The thing that concerns me is, if you look at the stat sheet, (Westbrook) and James Harden took 24 and 16 shots respectively. Then you go all the way down to Austin Rivers, who shot 9-of-12. There’s no Eric Gordon, he is still nursing his right knee bruise. It may be a while before he gets back on the floor.

“(Tonight) they beat a Grizzlies team but they still gave up 22 offensive rebounds. Against better teams, that is going to be a concern because if Russ and James don’t shoot the ball great you are in trouble.

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“That is something (Rockets coach) Mike D’Antoni and his staff will talk about. Can Covington, PJ (Tucker), Eric Gordon when healthy, can ‘micro-ball’ rebound by committee on those nights where (the Rockets) don’t shoot the ball well or when they play better defensive teams who do not foul them and limit their ability to get to the free throw line. (In those situations), ‘micro-ball’ is going to have to figure out how to play half-court defense.”

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