The Rockets have put the ugly final days of the James Harden era behind them and are suddenly one of the hotter teams in the NBA.
Houston won its fourth straight game on Thursday night, 104-101 over the Blazers, to improve to 8-9. They are now 5-3 without the superstar after a 3-6 start.
“It was kind of hard to play through that and find a chemistry,” said Wall, who missed the past two seasons with a serious knee injury and came to Houston in a trade for Russell Westbrook.
“And once we made the trades happen and we got the team that we wanted and the guys that wanted to be here and once we all committed to what we wanted to do, we were going to be a good team. Everybody has something to prove.”
The Rockets’ attack now revolves around Wall and Victor Oladipo, who came over from the Pacers as part of the Harden trade to the Nets. Harden had requested to be traded, preferably to the Nets, this offseason and ultimately forced his way out by ridiculing the talent level of his teammates in a postgame press conference.
The Nets’ Big 3 — Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — has started to blend together well with Irving now back from his self-imposed sabbatical. Harden has averaged 24 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds per game since the trade, and Brooklyn is 5-2.
On Thursday night, the Rockets were down by 20 points in the first quarter before using a big second to take the lead and hold on down the stretch against the Blazers.
“Just coming here and be myself, do what I can on both ends of the floor,” Oladipo told TNT after the game. “Be who I am in the locker room and continue to uplift my teammates. Without them I wouldn’t have any success.
“It’s been great coming to Houston and we are all on the same page, we all have something to prove. Once you have the same mentality and put a group of guys together, special things can happen. It’s unfortunate, throughout my career people keep quitting one me but it’s a part of life and I embrace it.”
A driving layup by Oladipo extended the lead to 101-98 with 26.2 seconds to go, and Gary Trent Jr. missed a layup on the other end. Christian Wood made one of two free throws about 10 seconds later, before Anfernee Simons cut the lead to one with a 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Eric Gordon made two free throws with 2.1 seconds to go and Simons missed a shot at the buzzer to give Houston the win.
Wood finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds in his return after missing three games with a sprained right ankle. Wall had 20 points.
“The guys have grit and they’re determined,” coach Stephen Silas said. “The adversity part is something that we’ve been talking a lot about. I think earlier in the season adversity would hit and we would succumb to that adversity. But (Thursday night)… we put forth the right energy to overcome it.”
— With AP