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jcy123 Jan 14
DENVER -- The Houston Rockets sure didnt look -- or play -- like a tired team. P. J. Tucker Jersey .James Harden scored 20 points and the Rockets led from start to finish in beating the Denver Nuggets 128-110 on Friday night.Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson had 18 points each and Sam Dekker added 17 for Houston, which completed an impressive back-to-back road sweep that began with a 132-127 win over Golden State in double overtime Thursday.The latest victory came despite the Rockets 5 a.m. Friday arrival in Denver. Most of the players and coaches got little sleep before playing the Nuggets.Its a good win for us, Harden said. Last night, double-overtime game, getting in at 5 a.m. and not really sleeping. ... We got off to a really good start, guys knocked down shots and just rode that wave the entire game.Rockets coach Mike DAntoni said the win was especially gratifying because of the circumstances and the way his team played.A lot of positives, he said. They found the energy to go ahead and finish up the game. It wasnt always pretty. Its a special group that can conjure that kind of energy in altitude after getting in at 5 oclock in the morning.Wilson Chandler had 24 points to lead the Nuggets, who had won three straight against the Rockets. The Nuggets have lost four of five overall and fell to 3-7 this season at home, the high-altitude venue where they once routinely dominated.Moreover, coach Michael Malone lit into his squad after the game over its lackluster performance.Its one thing to lose games but when youre outworked on your home floor -- Miami did it, Houston did it -- I have no explanation, Malone said. All I know is that it is unacceptable and thats why I do apologize to our fans because they deserve better.Were a bad team right now and I have to start doing a much better job because the direction were headed right now is in a bad, bad place.Up by 10 points at halftime, the Rockets took a 99-84 lead into the fourth quarter and kept the pressure on the rest of the way as part of a sharpshooting display that included converting 17 of 37 3-point attempts against a listless Nuggets defense. Denver went 9 of 30 from beyond the arc.The Rockets took a 73-63 halftime lead over the Nuggets, who allowed a season high in points by an opponent over the first two quarters.Houston led by as many as 15 in the first half, hitting nine 3-pointers, including four by Anderson, to gain early separation with its highest-scoring output over the first two quarters this season.The lack of defensive urgency by Denver was epitomized by Gordons fast-break layup at the halftime buzzer as he drove the length of the court virtually uncontested in the final 3 seconds of the period.TIP-INSRockets: F Trevor Ariza left the game in the final minutes with back spasms, DAntoni said, apparently after coming down awkwardly while going for a rebound. ... Houston has made at least 10 3-pointers in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak of its kind in NBA history. ... Houstons previous high for first-half points was 71 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 26. ... The Rockets are 7-2 on the road since beginning the season 2-3.Nuggets: C Nikola Jokic missed the game because of a sore left wrist. ... G Gary Harris remains sidelined with a right foot injury. ... G Will Barton returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the previous two games.QUOTABLEThey played harder than us. They wanted the game more than us. It was a bad loss on our home court. They came back very, very late (to Denver). We should have jumped on them since the beginning and it was the opposite. -- Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari.UP NEXTRockets: Completed a five-game trip and return home to host the Boston Celtics on Monday night.Nuggets: Play at Utah on Saturday night in the first stop of a six-game trip. Gary Clark Jersey . Defencemen Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and forward Ryan Getzlaf also scored for the Canadians, who started their gold-medal defence 2-0. Goalie Roberto Luongo, getting the call in place of Game 1 starter Carey Price, was solid when needed in making 23 saves for the shutout. Trevor Ariza Jersey . After Mondays hard-fought loss, the wait seemed longer than usual. Getting set to go their separate ways for a short Christmas break, the Raptors coach credited his team for their effort on a seemingly impossible three-game road trip, urging them to build on that success when they get back to work at the end of the week. https:///...-jersey-rockets.html . Hazard cut in from the left and scored with a swerving right-footed shot for ninth goal of the season, which proved to be enough for the victory despite Chelseas forwards again lacking a cutting edge up front. Derek Carr had a shot at sealing up the MVP award Thursday night and failed. Had Carr put up big numbers in a win over the Chiefs on national television and pushed the Raiders to 11-2 and atop an extremely tough division, he becomes a huge betting favorite. Carr didnt get much help from his receivers, and it sure was cold at Arrowhead, but when you average 2.9 yards per pass attempt, something has gone wrong.Carr left the MVP race wide open with a quarter of the season to go, and there are plenty of plausible candidates. Tom Brady could sneak back in if the Patriots win out to go 14-2. Russell Wilson might even have a shot. Von Miller is the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year and could threaten for MVP if he goes on a tear. Dak Prescott has some support.With all that being said, its fair to say Ezekiel Elliott could be the toughest competition for Carr, even if the Cowboys are likely to give Elliott a reduced workload over the final two weeks of the season if they clinch the top seed in the NFC. He has put up big numbers, and has been a big part of the finishing blow the Dallas offense has managed to achieve over and over.But I want to use Elliotts candidacy to throw another name out there.I dont think he has a serious shot of winning the MVP award, but he probably deserves some consideration, and the reasons why some might reject his candidacy might also be reason to review your thoughts on Elliott. I dont think you can vote for Elliott as MVP if hes not even the best running back in football, and theres a reasonable case to be made that the best running back in football this season is David Johnson.The Johnson vs. Elliott debateThis is easy, right? Elliott has run the ball 263 times for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Johnson has run the ball 228 times for 1,005 yards and 11 scores. Elliott has run for 280 more yards while averaging nearly a half-yard more per carry. Johnson has been solid, but Dallas rookie sensation has been more productive and more efficient as a rusher. Problem solved.Wait, why did I even write this article?Well, theres another thing these two players have to do: catch the football. This is 2016, after all, when teams throw the ball more than ever before. While some teams have a third-down back whose role is primarily to serve as a receiver, both Dallas and Arizona use their stud starters as receiving backs, too. The numbers there? Elliott has caught 28 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown, a chunk of which came on a single screen pass on which an untouched Elliott scampered 83 yards to the house.Johnsons receiving numbers are on another level. He has caught 64 passes for 704 yards and four touchdowns, which would a respectable level of output even without considering the second-year mans rushing statistics. The difference between Johnson and Elliott as receivers is roughly about the difference in production between Brandon Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell this season.Whats even more impressive about Johnson is the way hes gaining those receiving yards. Most backs pick up a fair chunk of their yardage on screens, which can at times be something closer to delayed runs: Youre not beating anybody in coverage, and you have offensive linemen out in front of you to help create running lanes after the catch. The yards still count, but the degree of difficulty is lower.More than perhaps any other back in the league, the Cardinals basically just use Johnson as a regular old wide receiver a fair amount of the time. Atlanta does this with both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and other teams will line up receiving backs like Theo Riddick or Dion Lewis in the slot, but Johnson moves around the formation and runs route combinations alongside Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd like hes a wideout. Bruce Arians has no qualms about believing he has a mismatch with Johnson against just about any other player on the defensive side.The typical receiving back will accrue about 35 percent of his receiving yardage on screens. For Zeke, that number is up to 74.8 percent, which is the highest in the league among backs with 200 receiving yards or more. Outside of screen passes, he has 13 catches for 81 yards. Johnson, meanwhile, has used screens to get to 22.2 percent of his receiving yards this year. On passes that arent screens, he has 51 catches for 548 yards and three scores. No other back in the league is within 200 yards of DJ as a receiver on non-screens.Including screens, other receiving yardage and those rushing statistics, heres what Elliott and Johnson have done from scrimmage this season, respectively:On virtually the same number of touches, Johnson has outgained Elliott by 102 yards while scoring two more touchdowns and fumbling less frequently. If you want to argue about each players respective context within his team, well, Johnson is responsible for a higher percentage of his teams output, too:Im defining touchdowns as passing and rrushing scores here, and Johnson has 15 of Arizonas 32 scores this season. Custom Houston Rockets Jerseys. Thats not unprecedented, but it is impressive; just one back in the past five seasons, Jamaal Charles in 2013, has scored more than 45 percent of his teams touchdowns in a particular year. (The record, as far as I can tell, is Emmitt Smith taking 15 of Dallas 26 offensive scores in 1996 to the house, for a 57.6 percent clip.) Nobody would argue that it has been the better unit of the pair, but you could argue Johnson has been more important to the Cardinals offense than Elliott has been to his.And of course, the qualitative element in play here is the supporting cast. Elliott plays behind the best offensive line in football, a unit so effective I nominated it for MVP several weeks ago. He has a budding superstar quarterback in Prescott, who leads the league in QBR. Elliott makes his quarterback and offensive line better, but they also make it far easier for him to do his thing, too.Lets compare that to the group Johnson plays with. His quarterback is Carson Palmer, who was an MVP candidate last year but has slipped significantly in 2016; his completion percentage and yards per attempt have dropped while his interception rate and sack rate have risen. Johnsons offensive line also has hardly been helpful. Arizona lost veteran guard Evan Mathis for the season after four games and star left tackle Jared Veldheer after eight. Center A.Q. Shipley is one of the worst starting pivots in football, and the Cards are down to disappointing right tackle D.J. Humphries as their left tackle. The right side of the line is John Wetzel and Ulrick John, a pair of undrafted free agents who bounced around practice squads before starting their first games with the Cardinals this season. Not exactly Zack Martin and Doug Free.So heres the question: If Johnson has been more productive in a far more difficult situation, how has he not been the better running back?Its hard to find an argument for Elliott. If you count the plays when Johnson was targeted but did not catch the ball as plays generating zero yards, the average Elliott play has gone for 5.43 yards per attempt, while Johnsons plays have generated 5.27 yards per effort. While Elliott has spent plenty of his debut season in garbage time, it has mostly been in running situations where teams are gearing up to stop him. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been able to get Johnson the ball against teams that are in soft coverages late in blowouts, although thats also not a huge facet of what Johnson has done, either -- 119 of Johnsons 704 yards have come with Arizona down 14 points or more.Instead, the obvious reason why people are considering Elliott as an MVP candidate without mentioning Johnson is the fact that Dallas is one of the surprises of the season at 11-1, while Arizona has been an enormous disappointment at 5-6-1. The offense has driven most of the difference between the two, as the Cardinals have allowed 23 more points than the Cowboys while Dallas has outscored Arizona by 57 points. The Cardinals defense has been much better by DVOA, but most MVP voters arent consulting advanced statistics as part of their vote.Again, though, where is the evidence that the enormous difference between the Dallas offense and Arizona attack is due to Elliott being a much better player than Johnson? You would probably take the Cardinals receiving corps over that of Dallas, especially when healthy, but theres a huge, obvious swath of difference in output between these two teams at offensive line and quarterback. Arent they far more likely to be the parties most responsible for the offensive gap between the Cowboys and Cardinals, given that Elliott and Johnson have been about as productive as one another?I should make this point clear: If I had a vote, to be honest, I wouldnt pick either Elliott or Johnson.Theyre both phenomenal players and have been excellent this season, but for a running back to win the MVP award over a quarterback, he has to either set records or single-handedly propel a team beyond its wildest expectations. Adrian Peterson did that in 2012, when he ran for 2,097 yards as the focal point of a Vikings team with Christian Ponder at quarterback and Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson as his starting wideouts for half the year.Between these two, Johnson is the one carrying his team, although he isnt getting it very far. I can understand being reticent to vote for the leading offensive weapon on a sub-.500 team as the leagues most valuable player, but I think its fair to say Johnson has either been the leagues best running back or someone very close to that honor in 2016. And if we have to ask whether Elliott is even the best player at his own position, chances are hes not the best one at any position this season. ' ' '