Looking to end a seven game losing skid, the Atlanta Hawks (1-7) took on James Harden and the Houston Rockets (6-3) at Phillips Arena on Friday night. The Rockets played without key free agent addition and nine-time All-Star Chris Paul who has been sidelined with a knee contusion since the Rockets’ season opener. The Hawks are dealing with a number of injuries playing without starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova (knee), reserve guards DeAndre’ Bembry (wrist) and Malcolm Delaney (ankle), and reserve center Miles Plumlee (quadriceps). Dennis Schröder (ankle), Mike Muscala (ankle) and Marco Belinelli (Achilles) played though injuries of their own. Muscala started in place of Ilyasova, as he has in each of the games the Turkish power forward has missed this season.
The Rockets used a balanced scoring attack to jump out to a 20-10 lead in the first six minutes of the game with all five starters getting into the scoring column. The Hawks followed with a 9-1 run fueled by six points from Schröder, but the Rockets regained their shooting stroke to close out the quarter with a 36-25 lead, shooting 7-for-12 from beyond the arc in the quarter. The Hawks converted 11 of 15 field goal attempts from inside the arc, but missed all five of their three-point attempts.
In the second quarter, the Hawks’ struggles continued on the defensive end. Though the Rockets were running the most basic of high screen actions, the Hawks struggled with mismatches after switches and their efforts to defend three point line were ineffective. At the half, the Rockets led 69-51 behind 21 points and six assists from Harden.
The second half results were more of the same. After trailing by as much 21 early in the third, the Hawks pulled within 13 after back-to-back three pointers from Dewayne Dedmon and Taurean Prince and two free throws from Isaiah Taylor, but as the Rockets shooting turned cold, they created second chance opportunities on the offensive boards to maintain their distance on the scoreboard throughout the third quarter. Both teams emptied their benches in the fourth quarter as the Rockets went on to win easily.
Schröder’s strong first-half scoring performance was not repeated in the second half when he scored just two points in seven minutes of play. Throughout the game, his defense was no match for the Rockets and Harden, who finished with 29 points and 11 assists in 30 minutes of play. Taylor, playing the backup role with Delaney injured, put together a nice performance with 12 points and five assists.
Rookie John Collins was once again a bright spot with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 28 minutes. Fellow rookie Tyler Dorsey scored his first NBA points with two free throws in the first half, going on to score 10 points.
Belinelli’s torrid shooting has turned into a slump, likely the result of the Achilles injury. After averaging 14.5 points per game on 22 of 30 shooting from the 3-point line through seven games, Belinelli has made just one of his last 11 shots, scoring eight points in his last two games including 18 scoreless minutes tonight.
The Hawks will try to get back into the win column on Sunday at Cleveland.