Find­ing a way

Vic­tory tastes sweet after los­ing past two to Mem­phis.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - JONATHAN FEIGEN On the Rock­ets jonathan.feigen@chron.com twit­ter.com/jonathan_feigen

All the ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics to come out of the minds and lap­tops of Daryl Morey’s math club could not have pro­vided the Rock­ets with the in­spi­ra­tion found in two num­bers — 90 and 89.

The Rock­ets scored 90 points in their first meet­ing of the sea­son with the Mem­phis Griz­zlies, fewer than they had in any game un­der Mike D’An­toni un­til they scored 89 in the sec­ond.

As much as the Rock­ets would have been de­lighted with any vic­tory against Mem­phis, they were driven to win their way, re­spond­ing to those of­fen­sive strug­gles with fire­power the Griz­zlies could not match or stop un­til the Rock­ets blew them out 111-96 on Satur­day night at Toy­ota Cen­ter.

“Our of­fense is bet­ter now than it was back in that pe­riod,” D’An­toni said. “We weren’t play­ing well. The first game that we played them we had 67 points in the first half and we just ran out of steam. … I think we’re in a bet­ter rhythm and that’s kind of our game.” After the loss in Mem­phis on Oct. 28, the Rock­ets had the 16th-ranked of­fense in the NBA. They are now No. 2. Points pil­ing up

In their five-game win­ning streak, the Rock­ets are av­er­ag­ing 120.6 points. They were av­er­ag­ing 101.6 be­fore that run. But they had not done it against the Griz­zlies, the fourthranked de­fen­sive team in the NBA and the de­fense that had given the Rock­ets fits for stretches of their first two meet­ings.

That changed nearly as soon as Satur­day’s game be­gan, with the Rock­ets go­ing 5-of-6 on 3-point­ers to open the game, bolt­ing to a 28-10 lead.

“To get off to a good start, that was the big­gest thing,” for­ward P.J. Tucker said. “Too many times, we come out, we let other teams at­tack us. Tonight, we came out on de­fense, got stops, got out on the break and knocked down some open shots.”

The Rock­ets did not main­tain that level of marks­man­ship, but they went 16-of-45 from the 3-point line to match their NBA record with five con­sec­u­tive games with at least 16 3-point­ers.

Most of that 3-point shoot­ing came from James Har­den and Eric Gor­don, who com­bined to go 12-of25 from 3-point range.

Har­den had 38 points and has av­er­aged 37.8 points on 50.5 per­cent shoot­ing and 48.4 per­cent 3-point shoot­ing in the win­ning streak. He ex­tended his NBA record of con­sec­u­tive games with six 3-point­ers to five games.

Har­den’s run might have fu­eled the Rock­ets, but Satur­day’s win demon­strated how far they have come since leav­ing Mem­phis two weeks ago. They have be­come re­lent­less about play­ing their way not just when things go well, as they had to start the game, but when they do not, as when the Griz­zlies ral­lied in their come­back win in Hous­ton on Oct. 23.

“It’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight,” Har­den said. “As long as we are con­sis­tent and know what the long-term goal is, we’ll be all right. There’s go­ing to be times where we get up big and let it slip away, but tonight was a re­ally good job. They went on their run and we sus­tained it and then we just built it back up.” Run­ning di­a­logue

By the end of the third quar­ter, the Rock­ets had a 93-70 lead, scor­ing more points than in ei­ther of their first two meet­ings. But they took the start-to-fin­ish win not by shoot­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well, but by do­ing all the things they did not two weeks ear­lier when the Griz­zlies had shut them down.

“We have our iden­tity,” D’An­toni said. “We know ex­actly who we are. We just had to keep talk­ing about the pace … keep talk­ing about the bigs run­ning, keep talk­ing about get­ting the ball in quick, keep talk­ing about get­ting re­bounds and re­ally push­ing the ball all the way through.

“In those ar­eas, we’ve im­proved a lot. I think our en­ergy has im­proved. Our de­fense has im­proved be­cause of it. When we get in tran­si­tion, we’re as good as any team, any time.”

Yi-Chin Lee / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Rock­ets for­ward P.J. Tucker, left, drives for the bas­ket while the Griz­zlies’ Bran­dan Wright tries to get his fin­ger­tips on the shot. Tucker had 11 points.

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