Perhaps the Houston Rockets' opener went exactly as you could have guessed, minus a disastrous performance from Kevin Martin.
The Rockets worked through Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola and kept themselves within striking distance of the Orlando Magic throughout the contest, but per usual, never struck. The defense caved in the fourth and the Magic easily held on for a 104-95 victory, bringing to light once again the Rockets' struggles defending late in games.
A rather disinterested Dwight Howard shot 9-15 from the field for 21 points. To Houston's credit, he only grabbed seven rebounds, courtesy of a polarizing performance from Jordan Hill and a Get Excited, You Guys performance from free agent acquisition Samuel Dalembert.
Kevin McHale went to his bench early and often, proving yet again that the firm Rick Adelman rotations of old are a thing of the past. As the season progresses, the units will surely tighten, but for now, it's going to be a wild mix of talent, speed and height.
It was the level of disorganization that likely did in the Rockets in their first official contest. The defensive rotations were at times atrocious -- especially Hill's and Budinger's -- and the offense looked a little messy in the half court. It's clear that on both ends, Patrick Patterson was missed.
That said, Orlando needed to bounce back after a poor showing in Oklahoma City, and despite the loss, the Rockets showed plenty of good signs. Your recap, after the jump:
1. Luis Lowry -- The Rockets leaned upon their two strongest pillars in Scola and Lowry, as each looked in midseason shape and form. Lowry bulldogged his way to a near-triple double, making 9 of ten free throws and dishing twelve assists. Scola wasn't perfect and didn't take a single shot down the stretch, but his 19 points steadied the Rockets throughout.
2. Courtney Lee --- Lee played his role to near-perfection. He made most of his spot-up attempts and took open jumpers when available. He's going to be a sneaky-important cog in the rotation as the season quickly picks up.
3. Samuel Dalembert -- The Haitian Sensation brought his Hai-game despite having practiced with the team for exactly zero hours. He also went five of six from the floor (don't expect that ever again) and recorded two steals and three blocks in just nineteen minutes. It's clear Houston needs "Dalembert, The Starter" in order to stay afloat on defense, though I expect McHale to stick with Hill a little longer for the time being.
1. Kevin Martin -- Speed Racer's engine sputtered from the get-go and never recovered. The shots he took weren't necessarily bad, and if he had made even four or five more we'd be having a different discussion, but the most disturbing development of his game is obvious -- he only took two free throws the entire game. We'll have to see how Martin adjusts to a new offense with a new coach, but sooner or later, he'll have to prove he can score and find driving lanes without Rick Adelman clearing the way.
2. Chase Budinger -- Chase shot the ball poorly in his first night out and played even worse on the defensive end. Ask Hedo Turkoglu how much fun he had facing off against Bud in the second half. (Hint: He had lots of fun).
3. Houston's Closing Lineup -- For me, priority number one for Houston is learning to get stops in the fourth quarter. To combat this idea, Kevin McHale threw into the game an offense-first lineup consisting of Lowry/Martin/Lee/Williams/Scola, and Orlando promptly shredded it to pieces.
Terrence Williams -- Williams went 5-12 from the field for thirteen points and grabbed six rebounds in 24 minutes. He translated most of his patient play from the San Antonio game to Orlando and it paid off. He made smart passes and took mostly smart shots. Now, he needs to begin work on the most important roadblock in his path to improvement: Finishing in the lane.
Stats of the Night:
Kyle Lowry Assists: 12
Should-Have-Been Kyle Lowry Assists: At least five.
Rockets Turnovers: 9
Magic Turnovers: 11
Rockets Free Throw Attempts: 20
Magic Free Throw Attempts: 10
Did JJ Reddick Really Score Twenty Points? Yes.
Kevin Martin + Ryan Anderson = -1. They'd cross each other out tonight, but we expect more from Martin, I hope.
Excruciating Courtney Lee Rim-outs: Three.
The Kevin Martin Trade-O-Meter Update*: The Trade-O-Meter opens at asplode.
*(If Martin goes 10-10 from the field next game, we'll have three posts asking if Houston has finally found its star. Such is life).
The Jeff Adrien Fouls-To-Points Ratio Update: In five minutes, Jeff Adrien picked up four fouls and scored zero points. The Fouls-To-Points Ratio opens at an exciting 4 : 0. Enjoy this while it lasts, Eddy Curry enthusiasts.
The Rubio Update: Just kidding.
My Beef With Jordan Hill of the Night: Hill made some smart plays on defense, rebounded the ball well and did a good job finishing in the lane, but he made some gawdawful rotations on defense and looked lost on the pick and roll. That has to change if he wants to give McHale a reason to start him.
Haitian Free Agent Acquisition of the Night: Dalembert. He's going to make this team a lot better, even if he looked a little more Herculean tonight than you folks should expect. Keep an eye on his pick and roll defense, because it looked pretty darn phenomenal.
Matt Bullard's Ballsy Statement of the Night: "They shouldn't call charges in the lane. They need to make players play defense."
Next Game: Thursday vs. San Antonio at home.
Opponents' Take: Orlando Pinstriped Post