Yesterday, TDS took a look at five things to watch for in the Rockets' opening night game against the Denver Nuggets. So what are the takeaways after the first game as we revisit those same five items?
1. How well did Ty Lawson mesh with James Harden?
There were reasons for optimism heading into the season opener, as Harden and Lawson looked good in the short time they spent on the court together in the preseason, but it just didn't translate into opening night success.
Both Harden and Lawson looked tentative for most of the night, and in the times they did get aggressive, they were mostly solo missions of aggression and not within the frame of the Houston offensive system. Despite combining for 12 assists, they also combined for 6 turnovers and looked exactly like two guys who had never played together before.
Lawson, who finished with the second worst overall plus-minus (-3.8) of any Rocket, seemed to recognize that things are still a work in progress and it may take some time to gel, telling ESPN's Calvin Watkins:
"It's a process. The pace is a little bit different, trying to get everyone shots and touches. It's a little bit of a process, but we'll get back to it."
Harden also told Watkins:
"It's not going to happen overnight, but we're not forcing it too. We're going to keep working and grinding away and just be better."
Harden finished with a 32.3 percent usage percentage, which is above what he averaged last year, while Lawson's usage was only 17 percent. Something obviously just hasn't clicked between them yet, but it should eventually. They're both too talented not to. It may take more time together than initially expected, but in the Western Conference, the sooner is definitely the better.
2. The minutes breakdown between Lawson and Patrick Beverley
TDS expected Beverley to hover around the 20 minute mark, and he finished the game with 21 minutes. He also played with his customary fire and energy, and his tenacity on defense and early three-point shot were one of the few things keeping Houston still in the game in the first half.
It wasn't all roses and candy for Bev, as his three-point shot fell off in the second half, he turned the ball over 3 times and finished as a negative offensive player for the game (as did most Rockets).
Had any other Rockets shown up and the game been closer, Bev's role player impact might have been greater, but as has been the case for most of his career, when the Rockets need too much from Bev, things go south. He finished with the third-highest usage rate of anyone on the team (23.8 percent), and for as much as Bev brings to the squad, that's just not smart basketball.
Lawson finished playing a game-high 37 minutes, significantly more than expected, seeing additional time in a two-point-guard small-ball lineup next to Beverley. We saw some of this in the preseason, but we'll hopefully see less of it as the season progresses. It was one of Kevin McHale's least effective lineups, and it's important to note that neither Marcus Thornton nor K.J. McDaniels received any minutes of note (McDaniels played 1 minute of ball).
Hopefully McHale will look to get some other guys involved moving forward.
3. Clint Capela in the starting lineup
This was another move filled with optimism that failed to live up to expectations in game one. At first glance, Capela's line doesn't look bad. He finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks and in 21 minutes, and his strong defensive box score helped him finish with the second best overall plus-minus of any Rocket (7.8).
But he was also extremely slow on numerous backside rotations and failed in the defensive communications department, telling Watkins:
"Communication tonight was not that good. I think the bigs could have done more. If anything, I think game after game, we're going to get better. We're going to get Dwight back, so it's going to get better."
The hope was Capela was ready to step in for Howard right away, given Dwight's recent penchant for nagging injuries and missed time, but game one showed there's plenty more work to do before the Rockets can count on the young big man for anything more than role players' minutes.
4. The power forward position
This was an unmitigated disaster last night. Playoff Terrence Jones reared his ugly head, looking lost, disinterested and un-energetic in the first half, and by the time he got his head screwed on enough to finish with 15 points, 6 rebounds and a block, the damage had long been done.
Jones was also Capela's fellow compatriot in slow defensive rotations and non-existent communication.
Backup Motrezl Harrell showed both sides of his game, providing a spark when Playoff Jones picked up two early fouls. Harrell's 8 first-half points helped keep the Rockets afloat, but unfortunately, they would be the only 8 points he scored.
In typical rookie big man fashion, Harrell got himself in foul trouble in the second half, finishing with 3 rebounds and a steal to go along with his his first-half scoring. Harrell definitely looked like he belongs with the big boys, but it's going to take some time for him to work the kinks out as well. In the meantime, let's hope Jones wakes up, Donatas Motiejunas gets healthy soon, and the Rockets aren't forced to over-rely on the small ball lineup any more than absolutely needed.
5. The performance of the bench
While Beverley and Harrell had their moments, the rest of the Rockets' vaunted bench was either atrocious or received an incomplete.
Corey Brewer had one of his worst games as a Rocket, missing numerous shots and layups, as he finished with just 5 points on 2-12 shooting and a shockingly abysmal overall plus-minus of negative 13.2.
Jason Terry played just 11 minutes and took only one shot, and no one else on the Rockets played any minutes of note.
Talented depth does no one any good if the coach won't use it, so McHale should look to open up some time for McDaniels and Thornton, especially when the team struggles as it did last night.
Ultimately, it's just one game in an 82-game grind where sometimes teams, even the good ones, will have an occasional off night. Tomorrow's imminent return of Dwight Howard should help matters, and the return of Motiejunas down the road will help even more.
But as Kevin McHale told Watkins:
"We did not play up to a level that's even remotely what we have to do if we want to be the team we want to be."
And the only way that's going to change is with more time spent together on the court.