The Houston Rockets have started off the 2022-2023 preseason on a high note. Even after the Rockets’ 118-110 defeat vs. the Miami Heat, there have been more positives than negatives. There is, however, still room for improvement in some areas, which were on display last night. Nevertheless, the Rockets started fast, taking a double-digit lead into the second quarter.
Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green set the tone early, both scoring double digits in the first quarter. The Rockets went to the bench in the second quarter, and the combination did not work out as planned. The Heat slowly chipped away at the Rockets’ lead and finished the quarter outscoring Houston 38-36 to take a one-point lead into halftime. From that point forward, the Rockets were playing catch-up the entire game and never were able to get back in the game.
Here are my three takeaways from the Rockets’ first loss of the preseason.
The chemistry in the backcourt is undeniable
As mentioned, the Rockets’ backcourt came out of the gate on fire. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. scored most of the Rocket's first-quarter points. Even though the defense was MIA( missing in action, not Miami), they continued their excellent play throughout the first three quarters. The Rockets sat most of their starters for the entire fourth quarter.
Green finished with 25 points and Porter Jr. finished with 21 points, with both playing 28 minutes. The chemistry these two have built over the last two years started off the court, as we saw from Porter Jr. tweeting out support for Green even before he was the Rockets’ second pick. That chemistry is beginning to show on the court as well.
The Rockets are putting the ball in Green's hand, letting him run the offense more, and having Porter Jr. play more off the ball. As a result, they seem to function better on the court as a unit, which should translate to a big year for both guards.
Tari Eason is inevitable
Tell me where you heard this before. Tari Eason had an excellent game for the Rockets. It is becoming commonplace these days for Eason to be one the best players on the court. Even in the loss, Eason filled up the stat sheet. He finished with his second double-double of the preseason with 17 points and 12 boards along with a steal and a block.
The block came on a hustle play on a fast break for the Heat, where Eason tracked down Duncan Robinson and blocked his three-point attempt from behind. Eason has been by far the best rookie of the preseason, and that is nowhere near a hot take. Eason has led the team in either points or rebounds in all three games. Last night, in what is becoming his calling card, Eason was around the basketball all game, especially on the offensive boards, finishing with five.
I have mentioned several times about Eason how he is this year’s Alperen Sengun. This means he came into training camp a mid-first-round pick, and some thought he would spend some time in the G-League. Like Sengun, though, Eason has been too good to keep out of the rotation and will likely spend his time in the Rockets lineup, not with the Vipers.
Defense, or lack thereof, is still the Rockets’ biggest issue.
The Rockets were the worst team in the league last year regarding opponents' points per game allowed. However, with the addition of Jabari Smith and Eason, the Rockets hoped this trend would change for the upcoming season.
Through the first two preseasons and a quarter, the Rockets seemed to be heading in the right direction regarding their defensive improvement. However, starting in the second quarter, we began to see some of the same ugly habits come to the surface on the defensive end. The Rockets missed assignments, didn't get back, cover shooters on the Heat's fast breaks, and turned the ball over time after time.
You may ask how is turnovers part of their defensive issues? Well, they go hand-in-hand, because the Rockets finished with 25 turnovers, which puts your defense at a considerable disadvantage, especially live-ball turnovers. Yes, some of it can be attributed to Jae'Sean Tate's early absence with an injury and Smith not being in the lineup, but the Rockets also didn't execute any semblance of a defensive plan last night.
The Rockets’ number one issue isn't scoring or rebounding. It is being able to get stops, especially once teams go on a run. The Rockets surrendered 118 points, including 71 combined in just the second and third quarters. Smith and Eason will help, but the Rockets will not win consistently until they improve their team defense and do not rely on one or two players.