It wasn’t nearly as bad as the final score indicated. Two nights after an impressive preseason opener against these same Chicago Bulls, the Houston Rockets weren’t quite as sharp in the rematch. But despite some sloppy ball handling and an at-times porous defense, Houston took a 79-73 lead into the final frame.
But with Eric Gordon, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins all done for the night by that point, new head coach Stephen Silas decided to give his young guys a chance to close it out in the fourth, and they simply didn’t respond, scoring just 12 total points in the final quarter, victimized by a 15-0 Chicago run that sent the Rockets to 104-91 defeat.
Wall was once again a beast, looking more like his old self than of a guy that hasn’t played ball in two years, going for 21 points and 4 assists in 24 minutes of action, while Cousins and EG both went for 10 points each. Had these guys played substantial minutes in the second half, the Rockets likely take this one, but I thought it was a good idea for Coach Silas to see what his young guys had.
I do think it might have taught us that the Rockets have a huge hole at backup point guard right now, as the offense stagnated under Chris Clemons, who doesn’t look capable of handling the playmaking duties and is a turnstile on defense, but he certainly isn’t afraid to shoot. He finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds on 3-8 shooting, and if the Rockets have to rely on him for big time bench minutes this season, they’re going to be in trouble.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the old regime cut Isaiah Hartenstein for Clemons, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt.
Jerian Grant was probably a more steadying presence while he was in, going for 3 points and 4 assists in 14 minutes, and I’d like to see him get more run over Clemons in the next preseason game to see if Houston can expect any consistency from that backup guard spot.
Of course, if Harden is in and Wall is healthy, along with EG, the Rockets do have three guys capable of controlling the rock, but you want a young bench guard you can trust, and I’m not sure I see that right now.
Bruno Caboclo also came back down to earth tonight, going for just 2 points, 5 boards, and 5 personal fouls on 1-5 shooting in 22 minutes of action, while youngster Jae’Sean Tate, who drew the start with P.J. Tucker still out, had 0 points and 6 boards in 20 minutes of action.
Such is life with young guys — good one night, not so much the next — and we’re also in the preseason and installing a new system; important points to remember when evaluating these fresh-faced players.
Houston finished with 18 turnovers and shot just 34.5 percent from the field overall, but with Tucker, James Harden, and Christian Wood all expected back at practice tomorrow, these guys still showed enough that I’m confident the Rockets have a chance to be good if Harden is bought in.
Ben McLemore had 10 points in 19 minutes, continuing to show he has finally found a home in Houston, and David Nwaba had 11 points and 4 steals in just 16 minutes, and he has a chance to be a huge under-the-radar signing for the Rockets with his defense and athleticism.
The Bulls were led by Zach Lavine, who finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Coby White pitched in 20 points and 5 assists and Patrick Williams tallied 13 points of the bench.
It was an ugly fourth quarter, sure, and the Rockets weren’t as tight overall as in the opener, but there’s plenty to still feel good about, especially with the meat and potatoes of the roster due back and Wall and Cousins looking ready to roll.
Houston will return on Tuesday night at home against the San Antonio Spurs.