Inside the NE Pavilion Arena, the Houston Rockets returned to practice for the first time since March 11. A lot has changed since the team last got together, but the goal of ending the 2019-20 campaign as champions of the basketball world has prevailed.
Miles away from the comfort of the Toyota Center in Houston, the intensity of practice also stood the trials and tribulations from these unprecedented times.
“It was the typical Rockets practice — same old same. We came in and did all the things we normally do like watch film to look at what we need to improve on. Like coach said, ‘It’s all what we put into it.’ We just have to get our momentum back going.” — P.J. Tucker
The condition of players following a three-month hiatus is the top concern surrounding the league’s decision to return to play — outside of COVID-19. A few players around the association admitted that trying to stay ready for a restart was difficult due to their lack of resources. But that doesn’t appear to be a problem for the Rockets.
Since the NBA stoppage, several players on the team took advantage of the off period to enhance their conditioning, highlighted by James Harden and Eric Gordon. With the goal in mind to play faster in Orlando, Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni seemed pleased by the physique of his players, but was far from surprised.
“We’re looking good today. It’s not shocking. I know a lot of our guys stayed in shape and found ways to stay active. Everybody looked good today for sure.” — D’Antoni.
Mike D'Antoni said he is expecting James Harden and Russell Westbrook to arrive in Orlando in the next three to four days. #Rockets— Coty Davis (@CotyDavis_24) July 11, 2020
P.J. Tucker acknowledged that the layoff was beneficial but knew he could not afford to take three months off. Houston’s starting center stated that he continuously worked out at his home gym while staying mentally prepared for the season restart. During his first day back on the hardwood floor, Tucker said he emphasized the importance of communication on defense more than any other component of their game plan.
“The way we play defense, we gotta have communication and know our language when we’re making switches, when we’re staying, when we’re getting crack backs. Every single term we have, we need everybody to know it and be able to speak out and say it. A big focus.” — Tucker.
If everything proceeds according to plan, the Rockets will resume their quest for a title on Friday, July 31, against the Dallas Mavericks. The game would have marked 143 days since they last took the court against the Timberwolves on March 10 inside the Toyota Center. Chemistry will be an issue for a handful of teams amid the restart, but the Rockets are confident that re-launching their momentum will not be a difficult task.
“It should not be difficult for us to pick up where he left off. That’s why we are here now. To practice and to get as much repetition as we can in order to get that same momentum we had during the first half of the season.” — Ben McLemore