Houston handled the Lakers pretty easily on opening night, leading by as many as 27 points, before winning, 108-90. Four of the Rocket five starters scored in double figures, and Pat Beverley added nine points, five rebounds and five assists.
– James Harden was outstanding, scoring easily and effortlessly. He shot 16 free throws and made 15 of them, needing just 17 field goal attempt to score his 32 points. He made 3-of-6 3-pointers, part of the Rockets outstanding 12-of-29 3-point shooting performance. During the final preseason game on Friday, I mentioned during the postgame show that Harden was a 39 percent 3-point shooter in his final season in Oklahoma City, then shot 37 percent in each of his two seasons in Houston. I think there’s a real chance that Harden will bring that percentage closer to 40 percent this season and if he does, that just makes the Rockets offense that much more dangerous.
– It was an strong opening game for Terrence Jones, who came back this season a physically strong er player and it showed. While his opponent at power forward was Carlos Boozer, who can’t hold a candle to the cadre of elite power forwards in the west, Jones played with the type of aggression that this team must have to try to stay near the top of the west. He was very active on the boards and did a much better job than he has in the past with his help defense, playing alongside Dwight Howard. Six of his game-high 13 rebounds were on the offensive end. Jones had just three games last season with six or more offensive rebounds. The only hiccup in the performance was that five of his 16 shots were long jumpers, he made just one of them. It may be time for his 3-point attempts and long jump shots to be less acceptable within the Rockets offense.
– Three players made their Rockets debuts, but the return Trevor Ariza, was the most notable newcomer to this season’s squad. Ariza’s one season in Houston five years ago was not very notable, his return now though, most likely will be. Ariza knocked down his first 3-point attempt, even got fouled on the shot and made the free throw. He then missed his next three shots. Coming out of a timeout midway through the second quarter, the Rockets drew a play up for him and got a nice feed from Harden and knocked down another 3-pointer. He made 5-of-8 3-pointers in the game and also shadowed Kobe Bryant throughout the contest, even subbing in and out to correspond with Bryant’s use in the game. Ariza was also one of three Rockets with a pair of steals.
– Now to the three Rockets debuts. Jason Terry hit a pair of 3-pointers (2-of-3 on the night) and a 17-foot jumper for his 8 points. It was the best he’s looked in a Rockets uniform after missing most of the preseason with a minor hamstring injury. He spent a lot of time on the floor with Harden as he essentially took the backup point guard minutes behind starter Pat Beverley.
Rookie Tarik Black was the first reserve to check into the game, when he was summoned in for the first time less than five minutes into the game after Howard picked up his second foul. While Black will still do the things that earned him the backup center job, he didn’t grow taller in the last few days. It just looks like it will be difficult for Black not to get worked over because the opposing centers are just simply taller and likely bigger, too and likely more seasoned as well. Howard clearly as to stay healthy, but he also needs to stay out of foul trouble.
24-year old rookie Kostas Papanikolaou is going to have to figure things out about the way to defend in this league and about how the officials call things in the NBA. He picked up five fouls in less than 20 minutes and had a pair of turnovers. But he knows how to play, more times than not he is doing something offensively that leads to a great chance to score, either for himself or for a teammate. He made two great shots in the lane and set up teammates for several other open looks. He finished with four points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
– The Rockets start to the season includes four straight games against non-playoff teams. Needless to say, with the western conference so tough, they need to take advantage of their next games at Utah (Wed.), vs Boston (Sat.) and at Philadelphia (Mon.)