Fresh off the biggest comeback in franchise history, the Houston Rockets returned to practice on Wednesday, following a 109-107 win over the San Antonio Spurs Monday night. Russell Westbrook continued to find his niche with the team, as the former league MVP led the comeback charge with 31 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
Although he has looked more comfortable through his most recent stretch of games, Mike D’Antoni says it is still a work in progress trying to integrate Westbrook into the Rockets’ system.
“He [Westbrook] is such a huge piece, and he has to be confident for us to play well. We are still finding better ways to use him, and I think he is getting more comfortable with the rotation and how many minutes he is playing. We are not there yet, but it is getting a lot better.” - D’Antoni
Russell Westbrook last 4 games— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 15, 2019
90% FT pic.twitter.com/447FicKMKX
Standing nine games above .500 with an 18-9 record, D’Antoni is nonetheless not too thrilled with the total production of his team through the first 27 games of the season. Due to occasional lapses in execution and missed opportunities, D’Antoni believes the Rockets have fallen a little behind in comparison to the high expectations from the start the season.
“You’re never happy, but you’re not sad. We blew a few games we should have won, but it averages out with the games we should not have won. I believe we are a little bit underwater in comparison to where we should be.” - D’Antoni
A portion of the Rockets’ recent mishaps has been due to the absence of Eric Gordon. In November, the former Sixth Man of the Year underwent a knee procedure that has kept him out the past 17 games.
Despite averaging a career-low 10.9 points on an unpleasant 30.9% shooting from the floor, 28.4% from deep, the Rockets will not reach their full potential until Gordon makes his healthy return back to the lineup, which is still on schedule for the end of December.
“I don’t think we will know how great this group really is until we get Eric [Gordon] back and to the way he has always played. He keeps progressing and is still on schedule to return sometime this month. He’s getting better with his recovery.”
With Gordon out, several players have stepped up in his absence, but none more so than Ben McLemore. He credits the trust bestowed by his teammates and coaching staff for his improved play, averaging 16.3 points while shooting 51.9% from the field and a sizzling 44.4% from behind the arc over the past 10 games.
With McLemore playing alongside Gordon once he returns from injury, the Rockets could have the best scoring bench in the league come mid-to-late April.
“Having a coach and teammates that believe and trust in me means a lot. It helps me to play free and performance on a high level. You cannot ask for nothing better as a player.” - McLemore
After defeating the Spurs on their home floor, the Rockets will embark on a four-game road trip out west, starting in Los Angeles on Thursday to take on the Clippers. Tip-off is slated for 9:30 P.M. CT.