The new Rockets are high-octane, but can they rise in the crowded West?
The 2-0 Houston Rockets traversed the Wasatch Mountains to face the 0-2 Utah Jazz on Saturday night. The Rockets looked out of fuel in the early going, but they stormed out of the locker room for an energetic second half and came away with a 104-93 victory.
James Harden overcame a rough first half to score 23 points while Dwight Howard posted 15 and nine. Jeremy Lin also turned in a sweet second half and scored 20. While all the Rockets played well down the stretch—outscoring the Jazz 64-37 in the final two quarters—Chandler Parsons single-handedly carried the team through a rotten first half. He had 20 points by the break, equaling the combined scoring from the rest of his team. He finished with a double-double after hauling in a dozen rebounds too.
After a sluggish first quarter, the Rockets fell asleep around the 10-minute mark of the second frame. They allowed the Jazz an 11-2 run in just over two minutes and suddenly found themselves trailing by 13 points. The Jazz also had a 9-0 run later in the quarter and led 56-40 at the break.
Enes Kanter was hotter than sriracha in the first half with 14 points and seven rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, Houston's dual centers looked punchless as the Jazz held a 27-12 rebounding edge at the break, including nine offensive boards to just one for Houston. The Rockets defense even allowed Richard Jefferson to drop 12 first-half points, and their offense fumbled away 12 turnovers. They had just three assists in 24 minutes.
Kevin McHale must have had some inspirational words for his charges at halftime, as they were propelled to a scintillating 15-2 run to open the third quarter. Dwight Howard had 10 points in the quarter and James Harden scored nine.
Make no mistake, the Rockets can score a whole bunch in a hurry, but the Jazz adjusted to the attack and salvaged a 76-76 tie heading into the fourth. Ultimately, Utah's defense deteriorated in the fourth quarter. Houston quieted the Jazz and ended the game on a 21-8 run.
Houston owned the second half, but that clunker of a first half cannot be ignored. Read on for full grades and analysis of the entire Rockets rotation!
Lin looking a little Linsane.
Jeremy Lin briefly lost his starting job at point guard to the more athletic Patrick Beverley, but Beverley will miss a week or two after suffering a torn muscle near his rib on Wednesday night. Therefore, Lin is a starter once again.
Lin turned in a middling first half with six points, two assists and a pair of turnovers, but the entire Rockets offense looked listless to start the game.
Lin was part of Houston's sea change on offense in the second half. He ended with 20 points, four assists, a steal and a block. His 7-of-13 shooting, including a pair of treys, helped the Rockets overcome their early deficit.
Fear the beard!
James Harden is the straw that stirs the drink in Houston, but he's showing some rust early this season. One night after scoring 34 points to beat the Dallas Mavericks and their loudmouth owner Mark Cuban, Harden looked sluggish as the Rockets stumbled out of the gates in Salt Lake City. Harden had just seven points, zero assists and three turnovers in the first half as Houston fell behind by 16.
Harden clattered to the court early in the third quarter following a hard but clean foul from Enes Kanter. He rolled his ankle on the play and scared the daylights out of Rockets fans. He shook it off but looked a bit gimpy afterwards. Perhaps due to the sore ankle, Harden began doling out the assists and racked up four in a three-minute span.
Harden finished with some nice stats (23 points, five assists, four rebounds, three steals, five turnovers), but his disappointing first half makes you scratch your head and wonder: Is he "saving" himself for the second half or did he eat too many Oreos in the offseason?
Perhaps conditioning is an issue early in the season. Late in the first quarter, a long rebound popped out to Gordon Hayward. Harden was lackluster in pursuing the ball and once Hayward corralled it, Harden gave up on the play and watched Hayward convert the easy dunk to put Utah up by eight. Kevin McHale seethed on the sideline and called timeout to rally his defense. Harden is too young to be gassed on the latter end of back-to-back games.
Chandler Parsons has the reflexes of a cat.
Chandler Parsons was on fire in the first half, dropping 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. It's too bad he was the only Rocket scoring in the first 24 minutes, but he carried his team early and kept them within striking distance. He even hustled down the court to get a blocked shot from the back side in the first quarter.
Unfortunately, Parsons took a couple of hard spills in the second half and he ended up in the fetal position under the basket early in the fourth quarter. While he remained in the game, he appeared to have dinged up his left hip or left hand, or perhaps both. He finished up with 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on the night.
Parsons will be motivated in the early going to justify his role in the offense. Dwight Howard will be looking to leech his touches, and James Harden will keep up his high usage rate. But Parsons offers great versatility in his game.
Dwight Howard has his eyes on the prize, but he was looking up to Enes Kanter on Saturday night.
Dwight Howard and Omer Asik continue to play dueling centers as their coach continues to experiment with his rotation. Howard got off to a bad start, getting his first shot blocked by Enes Kanter. In the second half, Howard started to get into a rhythm with James Harden, as they teamed up for a sweet alley-oop late in the third quarter.
In the latter part of the first quarter, Kevin McHale deployed Howard and Jeremy Lin with a trio from the bench consisting of Aaron Brooks, Francisco Garcia and Terrence Jones. Howard was the focal point of the offense for that minute and missed both his field-goal attempts. He also coughed up a pair of turnovers in the first quarter that saw Houston outscored 24-16.
Howard finished the first half with three points on 0-of-4 shooting and five rebounds. He quit snoozing in the second half and ended up with 15 points, eight boards, two blocks and a steal. Though the numbers are decent, he only played well in one of the game's four quarters.
To his credit, Howard was averaging 21 rebounds over his first two games and he deserves praise for that prowess around the rim, but Enes Kanter looked like a window washer from the way he was cleaning up the glass. Howard failed to box out Kanter and Derrick Favors time and time again. He was generally on the receiving end of the physical play, which is something to watch in upcoming games.
Omer Asik loves rebounding!
Omer Asik is the starting center in theory, but Kevin McHale is clearly employing a Twin Towers lineup in the frontcourt. Dwight Howard is the bigger diva and received the bigger salary, so the Rockets will play to his strengths as they iron out their rotation. For a team that went bombs away from beyond the arc last season, starting two big men who can't shoot from the perimeter seems an odd choice.
Asik played just 15 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night before fouling out. He stayed out of foul trouble on Saturday, but he played just shy of 12 minutes in the first half and was quiet as a church mouse. He has zero points, one rebound, one steal and one turnover.
Asik finished with four points, nine boards, and two blocks, but he doesn't look comfortable playing next to Dwight. Perhaps he never will.
Can Garcia be a difference-maker in Houston?
Francisco Garcia played 11 first-half minutes and missed his only field-goal attempt, but he scored a dozen in the second half and provided a spark to the second unit. He will be a player to watch this year, as he is capable of being a significant contributor off the bench.
In the playoffs last year, Garcia averaged 10.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals in 27 minutes per game, including three starts. He also shot 46 percent from three-point range. Houston would love to see the 31-year-old Dominican return to the form he flashed a few years ago with the Sacramento Kings.
Aaron Brooks struggled in the first half, shooting 1-of-4 and losing a turnover. That was about all he did, aside from another turnover in the second half.
Terrence Jones could play a vital role as the primary backup at the 4 behind "starting power forward" Dwight Howard. Jones hit his only shot and sank a pair of free throws for a brief but efficient appearance.
Donatas Motiejunas, Ronnie Brewer and Greg Smith suited up but did not play. On a related note, the Rockets have Ronnie Brewer.
Omri Casspi did not dress due to a sprained ankle. Patrick Beverley also sat out and will miss the next week or two with a torn muscle nestled somewhere in his midsection.
Houston gets a day of rest on Sunday, but the Los Angeles Clippers are preparing to face Harden and Howard on Monday night at STAPLES Center.