Rockets 114, Lakers 120 - Failure to Launch

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The Houston Rockets launched their 50th season in disappointing fashion as they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 120-114. It’s not exactly the start the Rockets envisioned, considering the Lakers are rebuilding and the Rockets hope to win home-court advantage in the Playoffs.

James Harden kicked off the game with an immediate assist to Ryan Anderson, who nailed a deep three-pointer. The ‘Beard’ was off to races after that, cruising to 12 points and a spectacular 9 assists in the first quarter (with only 1 turnover in those 12 minutes of action). He finished the game with 30 points, career-high 17 assists, and 8 rebounds; he also finished with 7 turnovers, but that’s to be expected with his usage rate in this high-octane offense. He’s truly living up to the ‘points guard’ moniker Head Coach Mike D’Antoni gave him in the preseason.

The Rockets’ offense was fluid and had ball movement that hadn’t been seen in years, especially not since Daryl Morey pulled off the trade to bring Harden to Houston. D’Antoni’s ‘7 Seconds or Less’ offense was in full effect, with Harden initiating the action early and shooters like Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Trevor Ariza letting the shots fly. Scoring was clearly not a problem for Houston they had 71 points by halftime, 96 by the end of the third quarter, and closing with 114.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, the defensive worries are very real. The Lakers had open outside shots all game long and managed to get plenty of easy shots at the rim, scoring 120 for the ball game. Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell impressed as they took over the Lakers offense to the tune of 25 and 20 points, respectively. Houston was outrebounded (especially in the second half) and only hit 24.1% of their attempts beyond the arc, while the Lakers hit 34.3%.

A major bright spot for the Rockets this year is Clint Capela. The 22-year-old has been named the team’s starting Center for in Dwight Howard’s absence, and has athleticism that is perfect for a pick-and-roll offense that James Harden has mastered. The duo executed the pick-and-roll to perfection on several occasions, with Capela finishing off alley-oops or Harden taking it to the rim himself.

However, the youngster needs to get acclimated to being a starting Center in the NBA, and the toll increased minutes and physicality takes on a human body. It was evident that Capela needs to get in better shape (and potentially back to 100% health), as the Rockets trotted out Nene, who is 34 years old and in his 15th season, in crunch time.

Nene, along with Ryan Anderson, is a new addition to the Rockets and isn’t exactly known for his defense. Both of these newcomers were exploited defensively and weren’t effective enough offensively to counter-act their weaknesses. Both Nene and Eric Gordon, another newcomer, were a team-high -14 on the floor in terms of plus/minus.

Another glaring weakness for the Rockets in this game was in the form of backup point guard Tyler Ennis. He finished with 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, and a plus/minus of -9 in 12 minutes of play. Now, following up on James Harden’s brilliant performance as a point guard is surely not an easy thing to do, but this is where Patrick Beverley’s absence is sorely felt.

Just like last season, the Rockets really struggled when Harden was on the bench. Unfortunately, Harden picked up his 5th foul with about 7 minutes left in the ball game and wasn’t able to be as aggressive as he could’ve and should’ve been.

It’s early and the Rockets have a lot of kinks to work out, but even with those kinks they should be able to take care of the Lakers. This one is a bummer.

Houston looks to get its first win of the season on Friday as the Rockets head to Dallas to take on the Mavericks for the first game in a home-and-home.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

The first ever Red Nation Hoops Game Ball goes to James Harden.

Was there really any other option? Despite a discouraging loss, Harden flourished in D’Antoni’s offensive system, beating his career high in assists (previously 16) and scoring at the same clip he always has. His move to point guard is a revelation as he got his teammates involved and put up MVP-like numbers. However, the Rockets are going to have to win a lot of games for Harden to even be considered. So far, they’re not off to a good start.

Harden will get the game ball often this season (and he may actually make a case for it every single game), but we at Red Nation Hoops will be conscious to give recognition where it’s deserved.

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