The San Antonio Spurs held a 17-point led midway through the third quarter when LaMarcus Aldridge caught the ball down in the low-post. With an undersized P.J. Tucker defending him, Aldridge knocked down his 21st point of the game with an “and-one” fade basket.
If this was a regular-season game, Aldridge might have recorded 40 points, as the Rockets handed the Spurs their first win of the preseason in a 128-114 loss Wednesday night inside the Toyota Center in Houston.
Other than Aldridge—who ended the night with 22 points while shooting 84.6% from the field—James Harden appeared to be in mid-season form in recording a game-high 40 points on 13-for-27 shooting from the field and 7-for-16 from deep. Russell Westbrook did not look so great in his debut in Houston, as the eight-time All-Star recorded 14 points and eight turnovers in the loss.
While the records don’t yet count, here are three important takeaways from the Rockets preseason defeat to the Spurs to keep in mind heading into tonight’s final preseason game.
Fatigued played an enormous factor:
Although they had six days off since their last game, the Rockets had little to no rest in between traveling back to Houston from Japan and practice time. When it was time to take the court on Wednesday, it was clear that the Rockets had no energy trying to keep up with the young and athletic Spurs.
The Spurs came out gunning from the opening tip, and the Rockets failed to match San Antonio’s intensity.
With 3 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes, Clint Capela’s fatigued played a substantial factor in his lack of production, as the Rockets starting center said he felt winded throughout the game.
“Clint did not play a whole lot last night because he was tried. We got to get him to where he can play his usual 30 something minutes. We had a lossy practice Monday and Tuesday after the trip, and after logging all those hours, it takes about a week to get ready,” - Mike D’Antoni.
Ryan Anderson at center is a problem on defense:
With several rotations missed, the Rockets did not look sharp on the defensive end as a whole. Their lack of defense allowed San Antonio to shoot 57.1% from the field—where a little under half of their points (58) came from within the paint. Although everyone looked out of sync on defense, the biggest defensive concern came from Ryan Anderson.
Before practice on Monday, Mike D’Antoni expressed his interest in having Anderson play at center on nights Tyson Chandler and Nene are unavailable. Although he can provide the Rockets with unlimited floor spacing, Anderson is a significant liability on the defensive end.
His defensive concerns at the center position were on full display, as Anderson gave up 8 points in the paint during his four minutes of action. At nearly every opportunity, the Spurs took advantage of Anderson’s lack of defense to attack him in the paint.
“That is probably the thing [defense] he has to overcome. We did not have Tyson last night, and he will make a difference for us.”
Eric Gordon needs to reprise his role as the Rockets’ Sixth Man:
Prior to the start of the game, D’Antoni made an adjustment to the starting line by inserting Danuel House at small forward for Eric Gordon. The change was an experiment to see how House plays next to Westbrook and Harden on the court together.
While House had a solid performance as the starter, Gordon made an immense statement coming off the bench. As the sixth-man, Gordon provided the Rockets with an instant spark, as he scored 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting on three-point attempts.
While it would be in their best interest to make Gordon the full-time six-man, D’Antoni is still weighing his options on who to start between him and House.
“There are a lot of factors you have to think about and Eric is going to be affected wherever he plays. It’s not really his performance, but it is whatever is better for the team. There are certain elements that we need from Danuel starting the game, and we need Eric to be able to play with Russ and James.”
Before starting the majority of the games last season, Gordon took home the NBA’s Sixth-Man of the Year honors in 2017, averaging 16.2 points on 40.6% shooting from the field across 75 games.
The Rockets will end their 2019 preseason schedule against the Miami Heat on Friday, inside the American Airlines Arena in Miami. Tip-off is slated for 7 P.M. Make sure to check out AK’s preview before the game.