Rockets wrap preseason with win over Heat
MIAMI - The Rockets completed their preseason schedule with more evidence of how unstoppable James Harden can be no matter who the guard running with him is. That really was never in question.
Less than a week before the regular season will begin, they had other reasons for concern. After Harden carried the Rockets to a 144-133 win against the Miami Heat on Friday there is far more uncertainty about the state of their defense and their health.
Guard Austin Rivers left the game in the first half appearing in considerable pain with what was later called a sore neck. Russell Westbrook, who had dislocated fingers in Tokyo last week, ran off the court holding his right hand in the fourth quarter with what the team called a sore hand.
The defense, though better in the first half, generally struggled even with the Heat holding out Jimmy Butler and playing Goran Dragic just 16 first-half minutes. Instead, rookie Kendrick Nunn lit the Rockets up much as Dejounte Murray had on Wednesday, scoring 40 points in 40 minutes.
Harden tore through the third quarter, scoring 18 of the 39 points he piled up in his first 29 minutes, staking the Rockets to a 21-point lead. After the Heat trimmed that to five, he drove the Rockets through the fourth quarter, finishing with 44 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals in 35 minutes.
While he seemed regular-season ready, in some respects, the Rockets might have been more concerned with their defense after Friday's first half than in Wednesday's debacle. Unlike the slow-motion, jet-lagged effort against the Spurs, the Rockets did seem determined to play with energy.
The Heat moved the ball to wide-open 3s, scoring 70 first-half points, getting so many open looks they hit 52.6 percent of their 19 3-pointers.
The Rockets regained their lead before halftime when Harden finished a four-point play and Westbrook finished a drive, giving Harden a 21-point half and Westbrook 13 with three assists in by far his best stretch of the preseason.
Westbrook finished with 16 points in 26 minutes, but could not finish the game, giving the Rockets another reason for concern to go with the win.
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