After a difficult loss against a Minnesota team that most consider subpar in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets return to Toyota Center for their own home opener of the 2021-22 season.
Their opponent is the one team that most consider destined for the bottom of the league: the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC spent a decent amount of time last season trying to win games. By the time they realized they needed to be tanking, it was too late and they were unable to move into the bottom three. Still, they had dreams of moving to the top spot with their own pick, there was also a 48% chance of stealing Houston’s pick if it dropped to #5.
Instead, they got dealt a difficult hand in more ways on than one on Lottery Night. Not only did Houston land at the #2 spot, but the Thunder were jumped by Toronto, landing them with “only” the #6 pick. They took Josh Giddey out of Australia, then swapped their other top 20 pick to Houston for a couple of potential first rounders down the line. The Rockets took Alperen Sengun, and the Thunder took Tre Mann. Whenever teams have intertwined futures like this, it’s inevitable that we compare them and think about who “won” the deal. Houston won the James Harden trade, but the result of the Russell Westbrook deal is still years away from even considering.
The Minnesota game didn’t tell us much about the Rockets that we didn’t already know. Kevin Porter Jr. is going to have to prove he can be an NBA point guard, and nine turnovers isn’t going to cut it. Jalen Green needs a more consistent shot. Christian Wood needs to impose his will on the game more readily. Sengun should probably be starting, or at least getting more minutes. Oh, and this team is going to struggle to hold opponents under 120 points every night.
The Rockets almost need to win tonight just to get that first win out of the way. Their next eight games are against teams that fancy themselves championship contenders. Otherwise, the Rockets could be 0-10 heading into their only non-NBA TV nationally televised contest against the Detroit Pistons. And if Houston is 0-10, ESPN will flex out of that game faster than Mark Jackson throws out corny one-liners.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest