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Rockets show obvious blemishes in opening night loss to Lakers

Poor defense and rebounding offset a personal best night from James Harden.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest concerns heading into this Houston Rockets season all reared their ugly head in tonight’s 120-114 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite James Harden’s 34 points and new career high 17 assists, the Rockets couldn’t defend, couldn’t rebound and had no one to run the offense while the Beard was on the bench. To top it off, Houston also went ice cold shooting in the fourth, and it all combined for a disheartening opening night defeat at the Staples Center.

The Rockets allowed the very young Lakers to shoot over 50 percent from the floor and rarely stopped anyone all night. There was no inside defensive presence whatsoever, with Clint Capela seemingly a step slow to cover and Nene looking every bit his 34 years of age.

Despite both teams grabbing 39 rebounds on the night, the Rockets never did seem to grab one when it counted, and a promising first half descended into too many one-and-dones in the second half.

Harden came out scorching in the first frame, looking every bit the MVP candidate we pegged him for, running the offense with precision and efficiency by racking up 16 points and 14 assists before the break. The pick and roll with Capela, who did finish with 16 points and led the team with 9 rebounds, was a thing of pure beauty.

The Rockets stopped moving their legs and the ball in the second half however, and when the shots stopped falling, the Rockets were done for. They shot just 6-21 from the field and 0-10 from deep in the fourth period, and the 5 minutes to start the fourth when the Beard sat and Tyler Ennis ran the offense was awkward to say the least. Especially when Ennis capped off his court time with an ugly turnover that led to a fast break and a three-point Lakers play that gave L.A. a lead they would hold onto the rest of the game.

It certainly wasn’t all bad. Harden also added 8 rebounds to his historic assist night, and Capela was also a force offensively. In addition, Eric Gordon dropped 19 points and 5 rebounds and was every bit the ancillary option to Harden that the team brought him in to be.

K.J. McDaniels also looked good in limited time, scoring 11 points off of dunks and a three-pointer and brought some nice energy off the bench. Mike D’Antoni inexplicably played him just 12 minutes, however, when the team clearly could have used a little extra juice. Different season, same story for McDaniels.

Despite these positives, the Rockets definitely have plenty work to do, however, and that’s finding a way to defend and rebound with effectiveness.

Ryan Anderson also had an off night, shooting just 6-15 from the floor and 2-7 from deep for 14 total points. His shot won’t be off like this most nights, but when he’s not scoring, he’s certainly not helping the team in other ways.

The Rockets could have used more K.J. and some Montrezl Harrell off the bench for extra toughness and defensive enthusiasm that could have made a difference. Capela clearly tired down the stretch and Nene just didn’t have it tonight. Let’s hope D’Antoni opens up the minutes for McDaniels and Harrell moving forward.

It’s just one game, on the road, in a long season, on a team sporting a brand new head coach and many new pieces to integrate, so it’s far from time to push any sort of panic buttons. But for now, let’s just say the Rockets’ blemishes were obvious, but they weren’t entirely unexpected.

This team did look unstoppable offensively at times, and if they can do a better job of keeping the ball and player movement up throughout the entire game, they’re going to score enough to beat a lot of squads.

The Rockets play again on Friday night in Dallas. Let’s see what kind of adjustments they make after this tough first loss.