While fellow rookie Isaiah Canaan spends most of his time with the Houston Rockets nowadays, Robert Covington finds himself leading the way for the top-seeded Rio Grande Valley Vipers. On the season, the 6-foot-8 forward has played in 34 games with the Vipers and is averaging 23.6 points per contest, good enough for fourth best in the entire D-League. Not only that, but since the New Year, that number has been just shy of the 30-point plateau. He has been incredibly consistent all season long and continues to play a pivotal role in the Vipers' success. And with only a two-game lead on the second seeded Fort Wayne Mad Ants, every win here on out is important for the Rockets affiliate, as they continue to separate themselves further and further away from the pack.
On Monday night, the Vipers found themselves matched up against a team that is desperately trying to make it to the post-season. At 24-18, the Reno Bighorns would make the playoffs if they started today, but only by the skin of their teeth. In these final two weeks, they'll need all the wins they can get to avoid the Idaho Stampede from cutting their season short, and they sure played like a team fighting for their lives last night.
After a slow start, which saw them score just 18 points in the opening 12 minutes, the Bighorns rallied back in the second quarter to give themselves a three-point lead heading into the half. They held Covington to just four points in the opening quarter and while he scored 12 in the second, he shot just 5-for-12 from the floor. Trent Lockett was leading the team with 11 points and the rest of the starters made positive contributions. However, the third quarter proved to be a different story. The Vipers took an early lead and poured in 43 points as a team, connecting on six threes. Covington led the way with 14 points himself. While the Bighorns put up 45 points in the final frame, their rally proved to be too little, too late. The Vipers matched them shot-for-shot and ended up with a 126-119 victory, pushing their season record to 29-13.
In the second-half alone, Covington scored 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting. After spending most of his time beyond the arc in the first-half, he mixed it up more in the final two quarters, putting the ball on the floor and cutting backdoor when his teammates drove to the cup. By the end of the night, he recorded his second 40-point of the season and pulled down 10 rebounds to give himself his third consecutive double-double.
Even with all the changes the Vipers have had to deal with this season, it's remarkable that they have been able to not only keep their head above water, but continue to set the D-League ablaze with the best record. While their front office has done a fantastic job of routinely bringing in good replacements, Covington has been the one constant for them and a great one at that. His ability to stretch the floor at his size has proven to be too much to handle for opposing teams, and he continues to put up huge numbers as the season wears on. There's no doubt that he'll be looking to follow in the footsteps of Glen Rice Jr. and D.J. Kennedy, by leading this Vipers squad to another D-League title. And with that, his opportunity next season with the Houston Rockets will only balloon.