ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets get off to slow start with 1-2 opening week

James Harden and the Rockets struggled in the opening week. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Rockets kicked off their season on Wednesday with an eye-opening thud against a formidable New Orleans team, before a weekend back-to-back series against both of the the Los Angeles squads. Houston was able to squeeze a hard fought victory out of the Lakers, but lost starting point guard Chris Paul to a two game suspension for fighting. Following Saturday’s contest/brawl, the understaffed Rockets would go on to drop a close one to the Clippers. After three games the Rockets are 1-2 and last in the Southwest Division.

Game One: Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans (L, 112-131)

Fans looking for an easy win to shrug off last year’s crushing playoff exit were treated to a rude awakening courtesy of the basketball stylings of Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic. Scoring 32 and 30 respectively, the duo fueled an early game push that the Rockets were never able to catch up to. In a largely uncompetitive game Eric Gordon led Houston in scoring with 21 points, while Harden flirted with a triple-double (18 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds). P.J. Tucker and Chris Paul each added 19 points.

Game Two: Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers (W, 124-115)

There are very few things outside of a championship that are more satisfying that playing spoiler. A year removed from defeating the Golden State Warriors on their ring ceremony night, the Rockets were back at again, this time ruining LeBron James’ highly anticipated home opener with his newest team. James pushed through a slow start to finish with 24 points, while Harden torched the Lakers to the tune of 36 points. If the wildly close game throughout wasn’t entertaining enough, fans were treated to an in-game brawl instigated by Lakers forward Brandon Ingram. The tension boiled over when Lakers guard Rajon Rondo spit in Chris Paul’s face. Paul responded in kind with a less-than-friendly face push, which incite a flurry of Rondo punches. Ingram returned to fray to add a few cheap shots before everyone was separated. Houston would pull away at the end, but it would come at a cost. Paul would ultimately be suspended 2 games, while Rondo and Ingram received 3 and 4 game suspensions respectively.

Game Three: Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (L, 112-115)

Missing their star point guard Paul due to suspension, the Rockets took to the Staples Center late Sunday evening in a face off against a Clippers team that was seemingly gutted throughout the trade deadline and off-season. What was expected to be an easy win turned into a struggle throughout, and a 39-point third quarter surge and last minute  bench contributions would put the Houston away, dropping them to 1-2 on the season. Harden paced the team with 31 points and 14 assists, while Clint Capela and Gordon added 23 and 21 points each.

Observations

Carmelo Anthony has been the subject of speculation since he arrived in Houston, and through three games he’s not exactly passing the eye test. While averaging over 27 minutes per game, Anthony is only averaging 8.3 points per game, to go with 0.7 assists and 6.7 rebounds. Three games certainly isn’t enough to draw any real conclusions, but it certainly is a little eyebrow raising. Hopefully we get more of a Michael Beasley effort this season and not a Joe Johnson.

Looking Ahead

The Rockets have a light two-game schedule to look forward to next week as they square off against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday and a home rematch against the Clippers Friday. Houston will call on the services of their bench against the Jazz to help fill the void left by Paul’s suspension. The Jazz, now healthy, are one of the tougher teams in the Western Conference, so don’t expect an easy win. The Rockets will return to full strength against the Clippers this friday, and should have no issue dispatching the patchwork squad. I expect a 1-1 week.

 

Coming off a brutal and embarrassing double-overtime loss in San Antonio two nights before, the Rockets were in need of a statement victory. The 15-5 Raptors provided just that opportunity Thursday night in Toronto and head coach Nick Nurse made his team's defensive intentions clear before the game.

To his credit, he wasn't bluffing. Nurse stuck to his word and the Raptors began doubling James Harden at mid-court. Harden would see this insane defense the entire game and as a result, stayed deferential and only scored 6 points at halftime. The Rockets would go on and a ton of open looks from beyond the three-point line as a result.

Danuel House played well in his return game (16 points on 5 of 11 shooting from the field and 3 of 8 shooting from three-point range), but was still really sick and head coach Mike D'Antoni elected to bring him off the bench as a result

The Rockets were pretty sloppy with the basketball (22 turnovers), but they rebounded the basketball well (out-rebounded Toronto 54-45), moved the ball, and got open looks and that will end up being the story for this game (22 of 55 from three-point range).

Star of the game: With the constant double teams thrown at James Harden in this game, there was room for everybody on the roster to get there's, specifically Ben McLemore. McLemore had his best game of the season for the Rockets, scoring 28 points on 8 of 17 three-point shooting. It's getting tougher and tougher to ignore the wide-gap between McLemore's performances as a starter versus as a bench player and he even addressed it after the game.

"Just being out there with the veteran guys like Russ and James and being comfortable and them guys building my confidence at a high level," said McLemore. "Russ does a good job and Harden does a good job as well of letting me play my game."

Honorable mention: Despite the focused coverage against him, James Harden was surprisingly efficient tallying 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, and 3 assists on 11 shots. Harden let the offense flow through his teammates and it paid off as the 29 of the Rockets 40 field goals were assisted. Effectively, Harden was acting as a vacuum to suck in defenses and get teammates like Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House open looks all game (combined for 16-35 from three-point range).

Key moment: The Raptors briefly caught up and took a 86-83 lead over the Rockets in the 3rd quarter, but through ball movement and hot shooting, Houston was able to quash the run. Houston would go on a 11-2 run to close the quarter. Ben McLemore scored or assisted on 8 of these 11 points.

Up next: The Rockets return to Toyota Center on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the Phoenix Suns.

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