After waiting exactly 5,127 days (all numbers approximate) for the NBA season to start, we finally get to see the 2018-19 iteration of the Houston Rockets.
If you haven’t checked out The Dream Shake’s Season Preview or Season Predictions, I urge you to check those out first. They will help catch you up on everything that went down in the offseason and what the expectations should and will be for Mike D’Antoni’s team.
Tonight, the Rockets open their season against the New Orleans Pelicans. Last season, the Pels stunned Portland in the first round by sweeping the third seeded Blazers and advancing to the Western Conference semi-finals for the first time in the Anthony Davis era. They accomplished the feat without DeMarcus Cousins, who bolted for the Bay Area. What’s more, one of the catalysts of that playoff run moved to Los Angeles when Rajon Rondo decided to play with LeBron James.
The Pelicans brought in Julius Randle and traded for Wesley Johnson just two days before their season was set to start. I believe that Johnson and James Harden are acquainted.
New Orleans still has the formidable Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday duo, and those two made leaps last year. Holiday showed in the playoffs that he can hang with any of the elite point guards in the league and even best them. I’ve never seen a basketball player put actual handcuffs on another player during a game but that’s what Holiday repeatedly did to Damian Lillard. As for the Brow, he’s one hype man away from realizing his potential based solely on the fact that there isn’t a single human being that can prevent him from putting a sphere into a cylinder.
For the Rockets, the most interesting aspect of tonight’s game will be getting some insight into Mike D’Antoni’s rotations moving forward. The Houston head coach experimented with a few lineups due to the inconsistent nature of preseason, but tonight we will see exactly how Houston is going to handle Carmelo Anthony. Will Melo come off the bench? Will he start but only play a few minutes before sitting in order to run with the bench mob, a la Paul last season? Or will he start and play the majority of the first quarter before sitting? Houston definitely wants to win the game tonight, but how it incorporates Anthony into the fold will determine their ability to win games that matter in April, May, and possibly June.
The flip side of the Melo coin is James Ennis III, who will be tasked with replacing Trevor Ariza as the switchblade 3-and-D wing for the Rockets. Ariza was willing to dedicate himself to defending the most difficult opponents and spotting up in the corners on offense. Ennis hasn’t played in a system like Houston’s, but the Rockets will need to assimilate him into a similar role if they want to succeed. Ennis isn’t an Ariza clone, but Houston doesn’t need him to be.
The final piece to the Houston puzzle will be Michael Carter-Williams. If MCW can give Houston 10-15 minutes a night off the bench and produce at even an average level, the Rockets will have the fourth guard they sorely needed throughout last season. The expectations for MCW are fairly low coming in, so the former Rookie of the Year is in a great spot to gain some fans.
One final note: tonight is also Game 4 of the ALCS between the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, which will take place at Minute Maid Park. Downtown Houston is going to be packed and traffic everywhere is going to be even more ridiculous than usual. If you have tickets to either event, please leave extra early, enjoy your evening responsibly, and be safe.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT on ESPN