The Houston Rockets have been consistently inconsistent for the last two months, and that continued with a win and a loss in the previous two games. They are coming off a disappointing loss to a New Orleans Pelicans team without Zion Willamson. Despite the inconsistent play, the Rockets are still within striking distance of the play-in spot in the Western Conference.
Friday night, the Rockets welcomed in Fred VanVleet's old team, the Toronto Raptors, as they looked to get back into the win column. Ime Udoka gave an update before the game that Alperen Sengun would play after being listed all day as questionable with an illness. Udoka also talked about the Rockets’ recent trade that brought in Stephen Adams and sent Victor Oladipo to Memphis.
You almost see a slight smile from Coach Udoka talking about what Steven Adams will bring to the team. It is safe to say he definitely approves of the trade. pic.twitter.com/13pzFqZSrl— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) February 3, 2024
The Rockets made it a point early to get Sengun the ball coming off a down game vs the Pelicans. Sengun scored a couple of quick baskets, as despite the illness, he was moving well. The Rockets started the game shooting the best from 3-point range they have shot in weeks as they took an early 21-13 lead.
The Rockets continued to be aggressive throughout the quarter, pushing the lead to double digits after a Cam Whitmore putback. VanVleet would finish the quarter with back-to-back three-pointers as the Rockets took a 37-23 lead into the second.
The Rockets maintained a 16-point lead for most of the second quarter as they had balanced scoring throughout the team. Amen Thompson especially stood out as he started the game 5-for-5 and seemed to take advantage of every matchup he had on the court. Rockets would go up by as much as 22 points in the quarter. Rockets lead 66-47 at the end of the first half.
The second half played out much like the first. The Rockets continue to dominate. Sengun took over the third quarter and did whatever he wanted on the court. Capping off a Rockets run with a wide-open three-pointer, Whitmore followed with a three of his own as the Rockets went up 95-69.
The game was never in doubt from the second quarter on as the Rockets continued their onslaught of the Raptors. The Rockets went on to win 135-106 and improved to 23-25 on the season. Houston has already surpassed their win total from last season and have won the most games in a season since 2019-20.
The only suspense in Friday's game was if Cam Whitmore and Amen Thompson would finish with career highs. And they did. Whitmore finished with 25, and Thompson finished with 19, as both rookies showed precisely why they were top-five talents heading into the draft.
Whitmore talked after the game about being underrated since the draft, which is becoming increasingly apparent each game.
Cam talks after his career night about being snubbed from the Rising Stars game— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) February 3, 2024
“I feel like I am underrated” pic.twitter.com/fZoiGUA6Kf
Whitmore has used it as motivation all season, showing everyone that he should have gone top five. Amen Thompson also talked to the media about the chemistry he and Sengun are building on the court.
Amen Thompson and Sengun are really starting to build chemistry together on the court. So much so they don’t even have to communicate to be on the same page. Amen said Alperen is his twin .— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) February 3, 2024
“He’s my twin Alperen Thompson” pic.twitter.com/qeQjpRgThA
Thompson's ability to play off Sengun will go a long way to his ability to stay on the court. Right now, his outside shot is still a work in progress, but his willingness to play in and around the paint opens up a lot of different options for the Rockets on offense.
I asked Coach Udoka about Thompson's ability to play out of the dunker spot and how he is already great at cutting to the basket.
Amen high basketball IQ should be talked about more. He has become proficient in the dunker spot which is a big advantage considering he is taller than most if not all point guards. Also in less than one season he is already one of the teams best cutters.— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) February 3, 2024
I asked Coach Udoka… pic.twitter.com/j1djYWqrlY
When both rookies are playing like top-five talents, that takes a lot of pressure off the starters, and it shows the potential of this team when they are all on the same page.
The Rockets hit the road to take on the Timberwolves, the first game of the four-game road trip. The Rockets have not fared well on the road this season, so seeing how they fare these next four games will be interesting. One bit of good news is that Tari Eason may be back next week, which would be a massive boost for the Rockets.
For the full interviews, check out the Rocket Fuel Podcast page.