Although it won’t count for much, the Houston Rockets unofficially officially returned to action last night during their 125-119 victory in the Toyota Center over the Washington Wizards while showing that whether they win-or-lose, fun times are ahead.
Each step of this past off-season has been an indicator that it’s a new day in Houston and Tuesday night’s battle against the Wizards fit accordingly. Instead of the usual doings of scouting out opponents that look good and might end up battling the Rockets in the playoffs, there was built-up excitement for a pre-season game.
Long are the days of looking down the road, but rather, a burning desire from Red Nation to consume the present and get a good look at how emerging talents like Kevin Porter Jr and Christian Wood have developed or how rookies like Jalen Green, Alperen Sensun and Josh Christopher are going to perform.
There’s also the evergrowing list of questions that begin to boil as the season opener inches closer and while most can’t be answered until the season actually begins, the starting lineup conversation was met with words from Stephen Silas who told reporters before the game that the lineup would feature the expected faces of Porter, Green and Wood but also would include veteran Eric Gordon and newcomer Daniel Theis.
For the rest of the unanswerables, the best way to fill the void is through observations and speculation... but you knew that already.
With Porter taking on the role of point guard, which is where he seems most comfortable, it’s going to leave a ton of room for Green to operate on offense with the freedom to just go put the ball in the hoop; so despite only going 4-14 and 0-6 from 3-point land last night, getting such opportunities at his ripe age of 19 will only fast-track his potential arrival to stardom.
Green is a guy who we know, at the very least, is going to get himself a bucket. He isn’t a project that you slowly, carefully have to craft into a star but rather a guy that just has to go out and do what he’s known for doing.
Speaking of KPJ, it turns out that he’s still flat-out disgusting when the ball is in his hands. Who saw that coming? (yes, this is sarcasm).
Porter glided his way to 25 points on 9-16 shooting which saw him drill 5-10 of his looks from beyond the arc to go along with 5 assists, 4 rebounds but also 4 turnovers.
The offensive display that resulted in him finishing 56% from the field was accumulated in 29 minutes of action which is a barrier that certainly won’t be in place when the real stuff begins.
Like Porter’s minutes, we likely won’t see as little productivity when the season tips off from guys like Wood and Gordon either who were both more so pretty mellow which is anything but a fitting description for Christopher and the night.
Although the rookie out of Arizona State didn’t play much - which will change next game, or at least should - he still was an eye-opener, perhaps the biggest of the bunch. Christopher pitched in 11 points while going 4-5 from the field and was perfect from long range going 3-3. Most of the praise directed towards him was as a result of his defensive effort which is the quickest way to earn minutes on a team that’s searching for its intensity.
His biggest flaw was that he turned the ball over 3 times which was a concern throughout the draft process but his pair of assists and rebounds along with a steal should help balance things in a favorable direction for him.
What Will Be Jae-Sean Tate’s Role?
It was made clear awhile ago that the Rockets aren’t going to tank their way through a rebuild this year, they want to win games and avoid plaguing the franchise with actions that develop a culture of losing.
As a result of this, Gordon got the starting nod over Jae-Sean Tate who was a member of the all-rookie team a year ago. Does coming off the bench on a team riddled with scorers mean that Tate is going to be a glue guy?
Tate is a guy whose game can quickly translate to winning. He’s gritty on both ends of the floor but typically isn’t going to stuff the scoring portion of the box score and because of this, he might be best suited as a spark plug that comes in, does all the right things and potentially closes out games depending on the type of night he’s having.
If Houston develops the way Rockets fans are hoping, Tate could become a vital piece to the franchise in a similar way that current Chicago Bull Alex Caruso elevated the floor when he helped win a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Okay, it’s true, the preseason truly doesn't matter much, but don’t let that heed your excitement.
Once the season officially starts, this victory against the Washington Wizards will be left in the past but the fact that they were able to get this win while having each of their core guys healthy and seeing minutes is a big deal. This isn’t the NFL where a lot of guys playing in the second half of pre-season games probably won’t ever see the field, these are players that you’ll see all season whether on the Rockets or with their G-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers - barring a trade or release.
So yeah, you probably shouldn’t go bragging to those around you about how Houston is 1-0, but you definitely should be smiling because well, Rockets’ basketball is back, and along with it is a new era.