First thing’s first. The Houston Rockets got their butts kicked last night.
Anthony Davis showed why he’s almost everyone’s early favorite for the MVP trophy, putting up an Olajuwon-esque line of 32-16-8-3-3, and the New Orleans Pelicans got some strong contributions from some surprise places, including big games from Nikola Mirotic (30 and 10), Julius Randle (25 and 8 off the bench, including 2 three pointers), and Elfrid Payton (a triple double).
The Pels carved up Houston’s defense (if you can even call it that) to the tune of 132 points on 53 percent shooting from the floor, and they also hit on 40 percent of their threes. They scored a ridiculous 76 points in paint, which means they scored practically at will on a porous Rockets defense.
But as disappointing as that royal tail-kicking was, especially given how excited we all were for the season to start, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
First, that’s a very good New Orleans team. They were 48-34 last season, and though the Rockets defeated them 3-1 in the season series, every game but one was extremely close. They’re going to be even better this year.
Davis appears to have taken his game to another level, and the Pels are playing the perfect style of ball suited to their strengths rather than pushing the awkward AD/Demarcus Cousins combo. Davis really took it to Clint Capela last night. This was no slouch they were playing. It’s an already good team on the rise.
Secondly, the Rockets appear to have an issue with intensity rather than with scheme or ability. The Pelicans were on another stratosphere with their intensity level, and it was clear from the beginning that Houston came out flat. And the Rockets are no strangers to slow starts.
Despite the big victory over the Golden State Warriors on last year’s opening night, the Rockets started the season just 5-3, with two ugly losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and one to the Philadelphis 76ers before finally settling into a groove in the season’s third week with a six-game win streak. The year before that, they lost to the pitiful Los Angeles Lakers on opening night and then started the year 6-5 before finally going on a win streak.
James Harden has started slow before, the team has started slow before, and it’s important to remember all the new pieces being incorporated. It’s going to take a little time before defensive communication is built back up, especially with a new coach running the show. They were a good defense last year, but the season didn’t start out that way. The Rockets grew into a top defensive unit as the season progressed.
It’s likely going to take a little time for all the new parts in new roles to find their scoring groove on the offensive side too. The good news, the Rockets still scored 112 points and hit 16 threes even with the offense clearly not clicking. Harden and CP3 will be better. Clint Capela will certainly be better, while James Ennis, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael Carter-Williams will get more comfortable with their roles.
It may even happen as quickly as this weekend’s trip to Los Angeles to play the Lakers and Clippers. The Rockets certainly looked the part in the preseason, but again, this is a slight transition. The Rockets aren’t returning the exact same team, as we all know.
It’s why I mentioned in our TDS predictions piece that Houston would likely start out slow before eventually settling into a groove and still win games in the upper 50s. I feel exactly the same about their prospects after witnessing last night’s defeat.
It’s going to be a tough day out there in the world of NBA social media. There’s going to be plenty of “I told you so” after many predicted the Rockets would take a big slide this year, and it doesn’t help matters that Trevor Ariza went for 21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 three pointers in a big win for the Phoenix Suns.
We had confidence in Houston’s big three and their practically unbeatable record last year, and unfortunately, that’s not how opening night played out.
But ultimately, it’s just one game in the 82-game marathon. It’s a loss that means very little in the grand scheme of things provided that the Rockets do, in fact, show up like we expect them to.
Check back in two to three weeks. If they’re still playing like this, it may be time to get concerned, and I might be singing a different tune. But for now, look for a bounce back this weekend in L.A.