When the Houston Rockets recorded their first win of the season, it came in a 126-123 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans inside the Toyota Center in Houston. To keep their Southwest Division counterpart winless, it took a triple-double performance from Russell Westbrook (28 points, 13 assists and 10 boards), as the All-Star point guard registered 10 fourth-quarter points.
In the loss, Josh Hart scored 25 points on 8-17 shooting from the floor, 5-12 on 3-point field goal attempts, as Lonzo Ball recorded his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 assists. Brandon Ingram—who just received his first all-star nod on Thursday— came one point shy of his then career-high with 35 points (14-22 FG, 4-7 3PT) and 15 boards on the night.
Following the game, the Rockets left with high admiration for the young ball club, including New Orleans’ former lottery pick Austin Rivers (2012) — who predicted how well this team could be with the addition of Zion Williamson.
“I’ll be honest with you, the way they moved the ball tonight was really impressive. That team is going to be in contention for the playoffs, I promise you that. Especially when they get Zion [Williamson] back.” — Rivers
Four months later, Rivers’ quote stood the trials and tribulations of the regular season, as the Rockets prepare for their first glimpse of Williamson in a season-series finale against the Pelicans on Super Bowl Sunday.
Unlike their first meeting in October, the Rockets are facing a Pelicans team looking to make a strong push toward the playoffs, with New Orleans sitting four games back of the eighth seed.
The #Pelicans left a good impression on Austin Rivers last night: "I'll be honest with you, the way they moved the ball tonight was really impressive. That team is going to be in contingent for the playoffs, I promise you that. Especially when they get Zion back." #Rockets— Coty Davis (@CotyDavis_24) October 27, 2019
In addition to finding an answer on how to defend Ingram— NOLA’s leading scorer averaging a career-best 25.0 points per game— the Pelicans’ frontcourt may prove to be too much for the Rockets’ small-ball lineup to handle with Williamson now added the mix.
Lonzo Ball lobs to Zion Williamson.— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 27, 2020
Zo finished with a career-high 15 ASTS
Zion had 21 PTS (9-16 FG) & 11 REB in 27 MINSpic.twitter.com/MrJqIFgK8t
“He [Williamson] is good and we knew he would be. His size, mobility, strength, and that talent, this league is perfect for him. He has been really good and I hope he is still on minute restrictions.” — Mike D’Antoni
Since making his NBA debut less than two weeks ago against the Spurs, Williamson has lived up to the high expectations, averaging 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds through his first five games of the season. Despite recording 24 points in a win against the Grizzlies on Friday, his best game came in a 123-108 victory over the Celtics, where Williamson recorded his first career double-double of 21 points and 11 boards in 27 minutes.
After receiving more playing time at the four with Clint Capela out due to an injury, Danuel House does not see matching up with Williamson any different than any other player he has faced in this league.
“This league has talented guys, and I am not worried about the physical aspect. I am going to come in with a level-head and do whatever the game plan requires for us to win, as well as give my best effort.” — House
Despite the Pelicans coming in riding a three-game win streak, ESPN’s BPI is giving the Rockets a 76.6% chance to come away victorious on their home floor on Sunday. Tip-off is slated for 1 P.M. CT.