• Brian L. Barefield

Hustle Hard: Rockets get back to the basics during their current winning streak.

“We haven’t played well in a couple of weeks,” said Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers last Saturday. “The only way you can get out of it is to play hard, put your head down and go forward. We can get out of this.”

The Rockets players must have heard their coach’s press conference and took it to heart as the Rockets have put together back-to-back victories after losing four in a row by simply playing hustle basketball. Russell Westbrook aka “Mr. Hustle” has taken the challenge personally and has fans praising general manager Daryl Morey for making the acquisition this past summer.

In his last seven games, “MVP Russ,” as coach D’Antoni referred to him after the 131- 124 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves is averaging 33.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 9.1 assists. All this while only attempting 11 three-pointers during that stretch. In scoring a season high 45 points on Friday night, he did it all from inside the three-point line. The former NBA MVP has increased his scoring average 4.8 points from December and also his field goal percentage by 11 percent.

Westbrook’s energy has definitely been needed since his backcourt mate, James Harden has been struggling lately and may soon be headed to the injured reserve list as he is questionable in their next game against the Denver Nuggets. He suffered a bruised left thigh in the third quarter of the Minnesota game after a collision with Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, but returned in the fourth. Harden’s three-point woes continued on Friday as he went 0 for 6 from beyond the arc and is now 9 for 57 in his last five games from that distance. He was still very upbeat after the second consecutive victory by the Rockets.

"Russ got it going, Eric made some big-time shots. Austin (Rivers) played well,” said Harden. “That's what you need. Tonight, was just a great team win for us."

Houston will need Harden’s game to be reenergized as they prepare for a tough five-game stretch that will include the red-hot Utah Jazz who have gone 19-3 since December 7th and the Dallas Mavericks who the Rockets are currently tied with for first-place in the Southwest Division. In order for them to propel themselves back to the top of the competitive Western Conference they will have to keep incorporating the one attribute that has put them on this current winning streak.


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