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The Houston Rockets start their quest for an NBA championship tonight in Houston Memphis Birmingham, Alabama. It will be Houston fans’ first chance to see some of the new acquisitions in Rockets red.
The headliner of the group is obviously Carmelo Anthony, acquired as a free agent this summer for a minimum deal after securing a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks. Daryl Morey has been after Melo for years, and tonight he’ll finally see those efforts fully realized on a college basketball court. I’ve expressed optimism regarding Melo’s outlook with the Rockets, and I’ll certainly be watching with a close eye.
Obviously, Melo isn’t the only new toy for Mike D’Antoni and his staff. A lot has been made of James Ennis III and how he fits into this squad as a Trevor Ariza replacement. His transition into that role will be vital to Houston’s success this season. Plus, Ennis has to like the fact that he’s playing the same role as a guy making $15 million this season. If Ennis plays his cards right, he could be moving up a tax bracket or two next summer.
Michael Carter-Williams and Marquese Chriss are less heralded additions, but MCW looks to be the fourth guard that Houston didn’t have last season and Chriss will try to right his career after underwhelming in Phoenix.
Local boy Rob Gray could get some run tonight, as could draft picks Zhou Qi and Isaiah Hartenstein. Vincent Edwards, Gary Clark, and Bruno Caboclo are the other new faces in Houston.
Much will be made of this game despite any caveat I provide, but remember to take everything with a grain of salt. We’re unlikely to see how the rotation will play out since we’re unlikely to see any major pieces on the floor in the second half. Even if Melo starts, will he play heavy minutes in the first quarter or will he play like Chris Paul did last season and go to the bench early in order to help run the second unit? Maybe he’ll go 0-20, but despite what “Russ4Prez420” on Reddit says, that doesn’t mean the entire season is lost for Houston.
Oh, and we get to see James Harden play basketball again. And that’s pretty freaking sweet. He is the best, after all.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Rockets needed to be pushed, or at least they started the night as if they needed to feel as much pressure to get a win as a preseason game could offer.
They were sloppy and foul-prone to open the game, shooting poorly from beyond the arc and trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by nine before they got going.
For all the new faces that fill the roster, the Rockets have not changed that much. They shoot so many 3s, and on Tuesday they launched a typical 46 of them, eventually they catch a wave. They did on Tuesday with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon especially rolling. The Rockets are built to put up numbers and scored at least 31 in each quarter.
They also gave Mike D’Antoni plenty of corrections to address in Wednesday’s video session. But for now, they got out of town in good health, rallied from down nine to up as much as 19, and showcased the potential not just of their returning stars, but of the role players they have put around them.
Chris Paul has insisted he would not look back. He knows of course what had been in reach when he left the floor for the last time last season. He likely is still driven to some degree by what could have been. But after his offseason began with a rehab from the hamstring injury, he had gone to work. On Tuesday, it showed.
From the opening days of training camp, the Rockets have repeatedly cited Paul’s conditioning. It had been striking the way he never looked even winded in the drills and scrimmages in Lake Charles, La. But on Tuesday, he seemed more than healthy again. When the game was ragged and the Rockets were sloppy, Paul seemed to be in complete command.
While James Harden often struggled, committing eight turnovers, Paul ran the Rockets offense sharply and was a force when the Grizzlies were caught in switches. He made 5 of 6 3-pointers, offering a reminder of his phenomenal night in Game 5 before his hamstring betrayed him.
In Paul’s 25 ½ minutes on Tuesday, the Rockets outscored the Grizzlies by 21. Paul had 22 points with nine assists and five steals. He was feisty as ever, growing testy in the second quarter until he received the technical foul he seemed to have on a tee for three minutes.
He looked, in his own way, particularly happy to be back. With his final jumpers and one last steal that led to a fast break dish to Michael Carter-Williams, Paul seemed to have done what he said he had to do. He left last season and the way it ended behind, finally back on the floor and free to move on.
The Brandon Wright era in Rockets basketball does not get much attention. It came and went in one game last season. It did, however, offer a clue to what the Rockets have in mind at center behind Clint Capela.
There will be times that Nene’s muscle and defense will be needed. But Mike D’Antoni wanted the sort of vertical spacing he gets from Capela on the second team, too. That’s why the Rockets signed Wright as a free agent after the trade deadline.
A bad knee ended that experiment quickly. But when the Rockets traded Ryan Anderson to Phoenix in August, they made a move to try that again.
Marquese Chriss had spent his two seasons with the Suns facing the basket. He won’t be posting up with the Rockets, but he will have a clear role and a chance to fill it as a rim runner and dribble handoff center with the second team.
After a ragged start in which he seemed to struggle with the speed the Rockets expect of him, Chriss settled down. He made plays on both ends of the floor. He has tools, the sort that made him the eighth pick of the 2016 draft. The Suns wanted more from those skills than they got consistently or the Rockets will ask. With the Rockets, Chriss has a well-defined role and an apparent determination to fill it.
The pick-and-roll part of his job did not bring much on Tuesday, but Chriss has had little playing time with Paul, the point guard that will drive the offense when Chriss is on the floor, in training camp. When Harden fired a pocket pass his way in the first half, Chriss failed to control it. In his 9 1/2 first-half minutes, Chriss had five turnovers and three fouls.
He also showed his potential. He played above the rim. He put together a run of strong plays defensively. He made all four shots he took, never straying from his new job description. After a tough first half, he played well in the second half.
There is a long way to go, but Chriss just turned 21 in July. Tuesday he took a step in the direction the Rockets have in mind.
In an unwanted return to where they left off, the Rockets were frustrated by officials again in the second quarter on Tuesday. In some ways, however, their complaint should not be with Haywoode Workman, Tony Brown or Brian Forte.
As with the changes in shooting fouls that were often ridiculously difficult for officials to make at high speeds last season, leading to often-maddening inconsistency, the NBA has placed an emphasis on more tightly calling fouls on restricting movement, another call that could be difficult.
The problem with that well-intended point of emphasis could be that it asks officials to determine if a hand on a hip, as with a foul called on Paul on Tuesday, interferes with or just touches an opponent.
There was a series of those calls in the second quarter on Tuesday and the Rockets did not like it. In some ways, however, they should be appreciative. Officials calling those instances tightly in the preseason might help speed the adjustment. Teams will have to adjust. It won’t be easy. And it seems a safe bet that those calls will inspire protests.
The Rockets got their first taste of it. It won’t be the last.