As the music of Hip-Hop star Nelly spread through the sound system of the Toyota Center, positive vibes were felt on the court when the Houston Rockets returned to practice on Friday, following a 117-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Although a six-point defeat was not the ideal situation to open the new season, head coach Mike D’Antoni remains excited in what he saw from his team Thursday night.
“There are a lot of things we have to clean up and get better at, but what I saw last night and what we have the possibility to do, I am pretty excited.”
During the first half, the Rockets once held a 16-point lead before they were outscored 67-45 by the Bucks in the final 24 minutes. A portion of the Rockets’ early success was a result of their defensive play, as Houston held Milwaukee to 36.0% shooting from the field, 26.7% from behind the arc in the first quarter. D’Antoni continued:
“I am encouraged by every facet of the game. Our defense was really good for a lot of starches, and then we made some blunders towards the end, which comes from being familiar in what we are doing. If we keep our energy where it is —which we should, then we will be okay.”
The most encouraging element from last night’s game was the positive influence Russell Westbrook has left on his new coach and teammates. While keeping Houston in striking distance by scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter, Westbrook recorded a final total of 24 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists in his official debut. D’Antoni said:
“The thing about Russell, he is a gamer. When the lights come on, that’s when he is at his best. He plays with a ferocious kind of nature.”
Russell Westbrook has done this three times in this half & they’re just incredibly perfect passes. My man. pic.twitter.com/OOV4f5g8To— OKCTHUNDERAlex. (@OKCTHUNDERAlex) October 25, 2019
As Westbrook likes to remind the media, his impact on the game goes far beyond his ability to score. Against the Bucks, the Rockets came out playing at a faster pace, as they recorded 27 fast-break points in the loss — a style of play Eric Gordon says is expected when playing alongside Westbrook. Gordon said:
“We know what to expect with him [Westbrook]. We know he is going to play with a lot of energy and pace. When you play like that within our offense, you’re going to create a lot of opportunities.”
Houston had their chance to close out the game with the win, but their offense went cold at the most critical time. James Harden, who ended the night with 19 points while shooting 2-for-13 from the floor, added to the Rockets’ offensive struggles of the second half — where Houston shot 18% from the outside after the break. Harden said:
“We’re going to win a lot of games. Some of the defensive coverages [the Bucks] were playing, the opportunities that the rest of the team had, they just didn’t convert. If we make those shots, it’s a different ball game.”
After dropping their home opener to Milwaukee, the Rockets will return to the court to take on the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, inside the Toyota Center. Tip-off is slated for 7:00 P.M. CT.