BIG NIGHT

5 Things To See At Houston Rockets Season Opener

HOUSTON — Some of the biggest names in basketball are at a crossroads and what happens next could define their legacy in the game. I'm eager to see what's in store across the league, nowhere more than in Houston.

Thursday night, the Houston Rockets welcome in 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to the Toyota Center for a gripping matchup. It has all the makings of a high profile game, as THREE former MVPs hit the court for the first time in league history.


While the Bucks continue to be one of the strongest teams in the East — not to mention, one of the best defensive teams in the league, their biggest challenge will be creating a game plan to slow down James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Here's what I'd love to see from Houston's own former MVPs – Brodie, the Beard – and the rest of the Rockets:

Playing Without The Ball

There's no doubt James Harden is the best offensive player in league history. I don't know how anybody could successfully argue otherwise. With that said, we did trade for Westbrook and his game isn't particularly effective unless he runs the ball. Last season, right after Game 2 or 3 against the Golden State Warriors, Harden seemed disinterested when Chris Paul directed the offense. He didn't spot up, or anything. To many… it looked like he was just standing there. With respect to The Beard, I completely understand how frustrating it felt to carry the entire offensive load — but hopefully, the addition of Westbrook alleviates some of that responsibility. After watching the preseason, it (honestly) doesn't seem like Harden's style has changed.


James Harden is playing like Russell Westbrook isn't there – Jalen Rose | Jalen & Jacoby www.youtube.com


MDA needs to emphasize more plays to get Harden off screens and cuts to fully take advantage of his shooting and Westbrook's playmaking on the flip side. If Harden can hit one-legged step-back three-pointers with consistency, imagine what he can do with simplified open shots.


Harden Tries 1-Legged Step-back 3 IN GAME & Russ Loves It www.youtube.com



Transition Offense

The preseason painted MDA's plans on managing two stars with historically high usage. Mike D'Antoni intends on staggering their minutes, taking Harden out first… even though placing a well-rested Westbrook to lead the second unit with EG (aka Splash Gordon) sounds more appealing. The Rockets were in the middle of the road in terms of transition offense. A new wrinkle that could put the team over the top this year would (very much) be the development of not playing so many possessions in the half court set.

With Westbrook's addition, Houston should run the floor more frequently rather than letting the opponent set up on defense. I think it would do James some good to finally get easy looks here and there — especially, after a whole season of being among the least assisted starters. We would under utilize Westbrook, if we don't set him up for success. That being, allowing him to get to the basket and score or dish out the ball for an open look. Tyson Chandler and Clint Capela should be able to gobble up plenty of rebounds to get the break started. Plus, we should showcase Chandler's underrated talent of making some impressive outlet passes to open wings. In the end, we need more fast break points with an increasingly faster and younger league.

Limit Giannis

Giannis lit Houston up for 27 and 30 last year. He was his typical 'freak' self, as they call it. It will be interesting to see how the Rockets plan on limiting his impact. Essentially, forming* a wall around the paint and forcing him to shoot a jumper.

Though Giannis has been working with Kyle Korver this offseason, a broken jumper like his takes a months of Sundays to fix. PJ will have his hands filled regardless.




Some Fire A** Kicks

I expect to see some crazy sneaker game from the most stylish team in the league. No team comes close to the heat coming off the feet of Houston's team. The sneaker king, PJ Tucker, never disappoints. I'm very curious to see what brand Tuck will be rocking since he is now a sneaker 'free agent', and has recently been seen rocking Pumas. I can see him to adding a little drama to this decision on opening night. (Maybe he drops his own signature model?)

PJ Tucker Returns For Sneaker Shopping With Complex youtu.be


Brodie and the Beard may drop some type of new, sizzling colorways of their signature sneaker to get things KICKed off for the night. This is the prime-time game and all eyes are on them. Why not market some shoes?

P.S. If you guys are reading this I'm a size 8W.

Win for Houston

What better way to start off the season than a win against the leagues reigning MVP? The Bucks have carried the title as one of the best defensive teams in the league for two consecutive years, and you can bet your money that they're thirsty to compete with hopes to secure Giannis for years to come in Milwaukee.

Everyone is interested to see how Harden and his new-ish running mate will pair in the backcourt. I know they are both eager to show they can successfully coexist with another star after both of them failing to do so in previous seasons. Also, Morey needs a win after his tweet that shook the NBA and the rest of the world. I know he's China get on Tilman's good side — again. Haha.

Bonus:

Some type of development of Post Offense from Clint Capela.

Capela, even though an uptick in his counting stats, took a step back last year. A simple eye test could have told you that. It would be very nice to see him take advantage of the Bucks weak center lineup. A simple drop step should do the trick. Maybe even a hook shot? The Rockets need evidence that Capela can continue being one of their cornerstone players.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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