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Rockets vs. Nuggets final score: Houston goes ice cold, drops opener

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A brutal game to start the season leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

There was so much hope before the season for rings and wins and records that the Houston Rockets forgot they have to play the actual games. And it didn't seem like they were ready to do that in the season opener, dropping a blowout to the Denver Nuggets, 105-85. The game was not that close.

James Harden shot 6-21 (2-12) from deep to finish with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Ty Lawson had 12 points and 6 assists in his Rockets debut. Clint Capela looked like the best player on the floor — and he frankly didn't play enough — finishing with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in 24 minutes in his first career start. This was an ugly game.

As a team, the Rockets shot 34.5 percent from the field, 22.9 percent from deep and 64.5 percent from the line. It was a flashback to every down night they had last year: when the threes didn't fall, there was no recourse. Except last year, teams shot just 32 percent against them from deep (the lowest mark in the league). The Nuggets went supernova from deep and hit 13-27 as a team.

They led for all 48 minutes.

The Rockets started as cold as could be in the first quarter. They were down 10-1 before McHale was forced to burn the first timeout of the season. They went down by as much as 12 before Terrence Jones had to be bench for Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer came in and gave the team a shot of energy (what else is new?). After the first quarter, Harrell led the Rockets in scoring and was on pace to average 32 points per game in his career. It's just math.

The second quarter was far more promising. Clint Capela had an awesome finish on a pick and roll, swatted Kenneth Faried and had two steals. James Harden got his first field goals, including hitting two straight threes at the end of the half. Lawson looked fast. Jones still looked bad. The Rockets went back to the locker room down 52-49, but finally looking like they found a rhythm.

And then the second half happened. The Rockets turned the ball over an astounding nine times in the third quarter. No shots fell, and I mean none. The Rockets missed a few open looks and then looked like they were rushing all their shots. Emmanuel Mudiay started torching Lawson. It got dark fast.

One wrinkle from this game I hope we never see again: the no-big lineup. McHale put out a five-man group of Jason Terry, Lawson, Harden, Brewer and Ariza to try to jump start the offense. Except the opposite happened. The team had been so cold from deep that a lineup full of guys who only shoot threes surrounding Lawson and Harden meant the lane was too packed to drive and the shots kept not dropping.

A lot of the game's problems were due to a lack of interior scoring. Jones had five dunks and layups blocked tonight. He looked like a tentative, useless player. Harrell looked like the only reliable inside presence until he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and sat until the game was too far out of reach. Dwight Howard returns from suspension for Game 2, and Donatas Motiejunas should return soon after that. Those guys will help.

So will, frankly, more games. Lawson and Harden looked very uncomfortable playing with one another. When Beverley came on the floor, the Rockets, and the crowd, came alive, but the offense just couldn't get going. There's just too much that this team still needs to figure out, and the only way to do that is to play together.

Final thoughts:

  • Sam Dekker came in during garbage time, and was a member of the Trillion Club. Congrats, kid.
  • Marcus Thornton didn't play at all. K.J. McDaniels was also a member of the Trillion Club. The rotation, as we suspected, just doesn't seem to include these guys. Yet.
  • Brewer missed every shot he took except for an open dunk and a three-pointer. Those crazy layups he hit all the time last year? Yeah, none of them went down. It's not a concern, he just had a bad night.
  • Capela's three blocks were all insanely athletic plays. He also came from behind to block a pass out to the corner. His length, plus his athleticism, gives him an unlimited ceiling as a rim protector. He's already great at it.
  • Lawson really needs to step up his defense. He got caught on a ton of screens that left the Rockets scrambling to catch up and left the Nuggets open for threes.
The Rockets play the Warriors at 8:30 p.m. CT on Friday on national television. The team should look a lot different with Dwight Howard in the lineup. Let's hope.