Last season the Houston Rockets felt like a great team in the making before failing to do well in the playoffs. This season it’s clear – it’s all about James Harden and Dwight Howard, who are off to an excellent start after the first couple of games.
The season opener was an easy win against the Los Angeles Lakers on the road. The second one, 104-93, came without a very good shooting night for Harden, making only 5-of-16 shots. He still had 18 points to go with his 10 assists. The Rockets were led by Dwight Howard, not finding the defense of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter too difficult to handle .He scored 22 points, and was helped out by the excellent Trevor Ariza with 20 points.
Kostas Papanikolaou scored 12 points off the bench with 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. He began his NBA career by making his first four 3-point shots, while Jason Terry, maybe playing in his final NBA season, added 8 points from the bench. With Lin not doing too well in Los Angeles and Parsons having a rough debut with the Dallas Mavericks, is it possible the Rockets actually got better during the summer, despite striking out on nearly every move they tried to make in the offseason?
Obviously, two games don’t tell the story, especially when it’s against the bottom of the West. The Jazz did spend a lot of money on Gordon Hayward. They have Trey Burke to stat the season with, Dante Exum as the most intriguing of all NBA rookies, Alec Burks as someone who’ll probably lead them in scoring and the always improving Derrick Favors. But this a project in motion, far from reaching its potential, and it certainly looked that way in the loss.
Hayward and Enes Kanter are the weak links right now in this lineup. Hayward carried on with his shooting from last season, making only 3-of-11 shots and scoring just 8 points. Derrick Favors had a strong game with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Burks led the team with 18 points and Trey Burke, the starting point guard for now, scored 15 points (but shooting only 33.3% from the field). It’s still far from enough against a team that knows what works and what doesn’t for them like the Rockets, not to mention the star power, as unappealing it may, they can rely on.
Dante Exum played just 10 minutes, scoring 5 points. Rudy Gobert, winning himself a lot of fans in the basketball world championship, didn’t exactly explode, scoring just 2 points. Rodney Hood, another rookie, was limited to bad shooting and scoring five. With this kind of arsenal they have on the bench (and in the lineup), the Jazz have nothing to be too excited about for now regarding their chances in the Western conference.
And the Rockets? They’re good enough for the playoffs, as even bad shooting nights from Harden don’t take away from a comfortable win. But more? Actually getting past a round? Challenging for the title? That depends on a lot more – probably on the team clicking, defensively more than anything. Kevin McHale as failed accomplishing that so far in his tenure with the team, but maybe this is the season it all changes.