The Houston Rockets (41-19) doused the Miami Heat (43-15) 106-103 at the Toyota Center on March 4, ending Miami’s seven-game series winning streak. Both teams penetrated the paint and were quick in transition, but the Rockets proved that they can beat a title contender.
The Heat outscored the Rockets in fast-break points 22-16, but they never grabbed the lead. They also outscored the Rockets in the paint 54-50 and only turned the ball over eight times compared to Houston’s 18. The Rockets made a difference on the glass, out-rebounding them 46-33.
Dwight Howard dominated with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 16 rebounds. He had a strong February with 22.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.
Down by three points with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter, LeBron James tried to force overtime with a three-pointer. But Howard played suffocating perimeter defense to preserve the lead.
He is the centerpiece of the Rockets. Houston has a dominant force in the paint that most teams cannot defend or out-rebound. His shot selection is improving, and if his teammates continue to feed him easy lobs, Howard will rack up points.
James Harden added 21 points and is a scoring machine, but he also had six turnovers. He needs to take better care of the ball and score to compensate for his lack of defense.
Terrence Jones, who scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, came up big in the fourth quarter with an and-1 and putback slam that energized the crowd. He is an all-around player who can provide a spark in the playoffs.
The Heat remain the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference by a wide margin over the No. 3 Toronto Raptors. The Rockets have now won 12 of their past 14 games and are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, 4.5 games behind No. 1 Oklahoma City.
The Rockets have a problem on defense that must be solved if they want to keep winning against elite teams. Their 106.4 PPG are third in the NBA, but they allow 101.9 PPG this season (18th overall).
Patrick Beverley has provided relentless defense. He finished the game with 19 points (5-of-8 from downtown). If he can maintain this level of confidence behind the arc he will be a constant threat on both ends of the floor.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin is fading in his backup point guard role. Lin is averaging just 26 MPG with 10.4 PPG and 3.8 assists per game off the bench. He averaged a mere 19.5 MPG over his previous four games and only played 15 minutes against the Heat.
Coach Kevin McHale is likely reducing Lin's playing time because he is a defensive liability and has not been producing. He scored seven points, had zero assists and turned the ball over twice against the Heat. Most of the time he dribbles down the court, passes the ball and then drifts around the arc.
Despite his three-year, $25 million contract, Lin has not surpassed 25 minutes over his past five games and, in his five games prior to facing Miami, he averaged a mere 6.4 points and 3.6 assists per game on 28.6 percent shooting and 25 percent from downtown.
Moving forward, his role will most likely continue to shrink unless he can revive his Linsanity days from New York. Beverley is playing better and earning his minutes while Lin has been passive.
The winning formula for the Rockets is limiting turnovers and grabbing defensive boards. Houston found a way to win with 18 turnovers, but the road to victory would be easier with less.