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.

HOUSTON HAD TO WAIT UNTIL HE WALKED AWAY TO APPRECIATE THE TRUE GREATNESS OF HIS GAME

Kobe was the man Rockets fans loved to hate

It's ok to admit it Rockets fans, you secretly respected the hell out of Kobe Bryant even as you outwardly mean mugged him and acted like you despised him. You had to, he was the best player on one of your team's biggest rivals. You furrowed your brow every time his name came up in a conversation or on a news story, but you damn sure weren't going to miss the opportunity to watch him perform live or on TV when he took the floor against your squad. You hated him because he was better than the best player on your team and you knew that his team may be less talented as a whole, but just his mere presence on that squad gave them a better than average chance of beating you. He had that "it" factor along with a lot of talent, and he was the perfect storm of what a superstar should be. He loved to be the villain and enjoyed the thrill of victory even more when it involved doing it in your gym. Don't be mad he did it, be glad you had the chance to see him do it, especially if you were lucky enough to witness it in person.

I was one of the "lucky" ones. I worked for the Rockets, so I got the opportunity to see him play up close and personal for all 20 years of his illustrious career. I could not stand him when he played my team because he just exuded confidence and bravado on the court. No lead was ever safe and most leads disappeared the minute he decided to kick it into overdrive and take over. Remember Shane and Ron Artest doing anything and everything to stop the "Black Mamba" only to end up snakebit in the end? How about the fact that after his rookie season he was 39-27 against the Rockets in the regular season and a perfect 3-0 in playoff series matchups. Sure Shaq and Pau Gasol and others played a role in those results, but the one constant in all those games was Kobe Bryant was at the forefront for the Lakers and there was no doubt he was going to leave his mark on every contest. I lost count of how many times I thought we had him beat, had victory in hand, only to head home, shaking my head, trying to figure out how he was able to do all that he did to pull L.A. through? You couldn't stop him, you could try to double him, you could even try to fight him as Artest tried to no avail, but in the end all he cared about was that you couldn't beat him. Sure the Lakers could beat themselves and mistakes could lead to victory, but the chances that Kobe was going to crack under pressure or give a game away was just out of the realm of possibilities.

I was never able to truly appreciate the greatness of Kobe Bryant until he retired. I had to have that grace period to cool off and get over all the agony, the hurt and the heartbreak that he almost single-handedly delivered to me and my team over two decades of numerous battles. Once I had the chance to look back and reflect of his career and take the personal side of it out of the equation, how could you not appreciate his greatness and commend him for all the memorable moments he provided for the game of basketball? Sure some will remember the air ball in crunch time against the Jazz in his rookie year, but more will remember the 60 points he dropped on Utah in the final game of his career. In between those bookend moments, there was the 81 point game, 5 NBA titles, 1 MVP, and all those All-Star games and All-NBA teams. Even in the darkest moments of his NBA career, immediately after suffering a torn Achilles, he insisted on going to the free throw line to shoot the two free throws. He didn't just take them, he made them, even further cementing the legacy and that "Mamba Mentality." As a player, he did it the right way, his way and set the highest standard in sports in terms of work ethic, toughness and the amount of work you have to put in to get out everything you could possibly desire. As he walked away from the game I thought he had broken my heart for the last time, but little did I know he had the ability to do it one more time. Rest in Peace Kobe.