Instant analysis and observations from Houston's regular season opener against the Charlotte Bobcats
HOUSTON - Instant analysis and observations from Houston’s 96-83 opening night win over Charlotte Wednesday evening at Toyota Center:
- The first half of tonight’s game isn’t going to find itself in the hoops version of the Louvre anytime soon. Both teams misfired on shots from all over the floor which was an obvious bust for shooting percentages but an absolute boon for rebounding numbers. And hey, wouldn’t you know it, the Rockets just so happen to have a pair of guys who make a pretty darn good living off their elite glass-cleaning skills. Dwight Howard and Omer Asik didn’t grab every single rebound available in the first half, but it sure felt that way on numerous occasions. On just about any other night, Asik’s halftime rebounding total of 10 would have been cause for celebration and praise. But any such fêting had to be put on hold due to Howard’s ridiculous 17 boards at the break – a truly remarkable two-quarter performance for last year’s rebounding champ.
- After watching Houston run roughshod over the preseason competition, it was a bit jarring to actually see the team struggle for a stretch. The first quarter was nothing short of a slog as the Rockets had a rough time connecting from both the field and the charity stripe. In particular it was especially strange to see James Harden look even remotely human given the fact he’d turned the preseason into his own personal playground, scoring seemingly at will. Harden retreated to the locker room following his initial stint after experiencing some lower back tightness which likely played a part in his 2-of-8, four-turnover first half performance. The back was clearly still a factor the rest of the way as well, with Harden seen trying to stretch out on the floor with heat packs on his back during his stints on the bench during the second half (UPDATE: After the game, Harden revealed he also sustained a minor injury to his left wrist during the first half of Wednesday's contest).
- Also not at all helping matters: Patrick Beverley was able to play just 10 minutes tonight after taking a shot in the ribs that knocked him out for the rest of the night. Quite a bummer for a guy who was not only making his first regular season start, but also playing in the first opening night game of his NBA career. Expect his status to be day-to-day going forward (UPDATE: After the game, Beverley told Rockets.com he pulled a muscle beneath his rib and that he expects he'll be able to play Friday night when the Mavericks come to town).
- Just as everyone predicted pregame, tonight’s offensive star was … Francisco Garcia?!? With Harden hurting and Houston turning the ball over at a rapid rate, the team needed someone to step forward and provide a boost, and the irrepressible Garcia was only too happy to fill that role, scoring 19 points off the bench. Rockets fans are plenty familiar with ‘Cisco’s blend of big-time shot-making and guile, and it’s not a stretch to suggest he may well have saved his club’s bacon with his scoring exploits tonight.
- Houston also got a solid night off the bench from Jeremy Lin, whose productivity was even more vital than usual given the injury to Beverley. J-Lin didn’t show off the passing chops that littered many a preseason highlight reel, but he attacked the rim and steadied the ship on more than one occasion with a well-timed bucket while the tighter-than-expected game still very much hung in the balance. Lin’s 16 points and 2 assists came in 31 minutes of play.
- Still, in the end, for all the aches, pains and missed shots experienced earlier in the game, tonight’s fourth quarter belonged to Houston’s dynamic duo. Howard and Harden provided fans with the show they came to see in the final frame, teaming up multiple times to turn a close game into a double-digit win. Harden exploded for 13 points in the period while Howard owned the paint on both ends. Harden’s final line: 21 points, 5 assists and 3 boards. Not too shabby for a guy who was clearly laboring at times. Howard, meanwhile, delivered 17 points, 2 blocks and a career-high tying 26 rebounds. He was as good as advertised, impacting the game in ways great and small throughout.
- The stat of the night: 40-37. That would be the rebounding advantage Houston owned over Charlotte - just based on the efforts of Howard and Asik alone. As a team, the Rockets enjoyed a 54-37 edge on the glass. Best of luck to the rest of the NBA when it comes to grabbing boards while Howard and Asik are sharing the floor together this season.
- Last but not least, this little trifle: My favorite part of this year’s player intros on the big screen – seeing Chandler Parsons playfully smoothing his eye brows and the rest of his facial hair. Hey, you gotta love the fact that he doesn’t shy away from the pretty boy caricature. The exact opposite, in fact – he owns it.
See you Friday night when the Mavericks come to town.
HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE
(On the status of James Harden) “His wrist was bothering him some. We were not moving or getting into rhythm so everybody was bothered by something.”
(On depth of point guard position) “Aaron (Brooks) and Jeremy (Lin) played very well for us. Francisco (Garcia) kind of kept us running. Thank goodness for him. Jeremy played very well but Jeremy's been playing well all year. We were very stagnant offensively. Very unlike how we played all exhibition games and all days in practice. It's the first game. The lights kind of came on. We weren't cutting and moving the way we normally do.”
(On the rebounding efforts of Omer Asik and Dwight Howard) “They did a great job. I thought they really rebounded the ball exceptionally. When you have forty rebounds between the two of them and eleven offensive rebounds, that's something. They did a nice job on Al (Jefferson) between the two of them. They did a nice job defensively for the most part all night long. We held them (Bobcats) to 37 percent shooting. When you play good defense in the way that we like to play, you have way more run-outs and way more attacks and we just didn't get that tonight.”
(On rebounds offsetting offense) “I always said that extra possessions equal extra points. We had 14 offensive rebounds. We might be a little different but we can still run a lot better and we can still get into a lot of flow. We'll work on that.”
(On the team's play) “We have to start out letting the ball. We're getting it and we're holding it. We've got two guys and three guys in the back court all looking for the ball. We did not play the way we normally play. We had three on ones where we didn't pass the ball. We played very unlike ourselves. We weren't getting out running. The ball was sticky. Everybody was trying to come back and get the ball. We've got a lot of stuff we have to clean up on. If we had played this way for a month.
I would be really concerned. This is the first time we've played like this since the first practice.”
(On the depth of the guard position) “This is the game of basketball, never can predict, you can never know what is going to happen. People get hurt all the time, emergencies, so everybody always has to be ready. I think Aaron (Brooks) came in and really steadied the ship, when I came back we had a pretty good lead. Everybody just has to be ready and that’s just the way it is in the game.”
(On how he got hit in the chin) “I really don’t know either actually. I have to go see the doctor right now. We just threw some stuff on this (his chin) so I could get back out there, but I’ll probably go get stitched up right now.”
(On the Rockets play) “I thought we could have been a lot better on the offensive end. We kind of got stagnant. It was something we didn't do in the preseason. We've just got to get better at moving the ball and trusting each other. Everybody has to make plays and we've just got to do it together.”
(On him and Omer Asik combining for 40 rebounds) “For our team to get out and run we've got to clean the boards and not give teams second chances. We just have to try to hold them to one shot every possession and that way we can get out and run. Our defense was pretty solid tonight.”
(On the Rockets struggles offensively) “In the first half that's not how we play and then the second half we were pressing, forcing. I think the excitement and the nerves got to us a little bit. Our offense was selfish and it wasn't run the way it was supposed to have been run. We're going to look through film and get better. We can't get much worse offensively.”
(On the game) “We got the win but we've got to play better though. I felt good out there though. The guys were looking for me and I was able to make some open shots.”
(On the Rockets depth) “We've got a good team and we've got a deep team. D-Mo didn't play tonight and some other guys didn't play who are good players. We're doing pretty good. Guys played good tonight. We've got a good team.”
(On his back) “It just got real tight. I felt a little tightening this morning. I tried to stretch it out a bit. It got really tight during the game. I couldn't really move the way I wanted to or the way I'm used to. So, it caused a couple of turnovers. The trainer did a good job of trying to help me push through it.”
(On how he feels now) “I'm alright. I sat in the cold tub. I tried to get some rehab and stuff like that. I'll come in and do some treatment in the morning and hopefully get ready for Friday. “
(On Dwight Howard) “He was amazing. Running the floor. Obviously, rebounding the basketball and taking all my rebounds. Finishing the basketball. You know, doing what he does. He's a game changer.”
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS COACH STEVE CLIFFORD
(On what he saw from his team he liked) “I liked the effort and I liked the poise we had for most of the game. This is a tough place to play and it is a very good team and they (Rockets) played well. We were right there with 5 1/2(minutes to go) and I like the way we competed and we gave ourselves a chance until the end. We mad more basic mistakes than we have in the last three preseason games, in terms of transition which was the difference in the game. The stretch when the game got away from us in the fourth quarter, our defense wasn’t good in transition. We made too many basic mistakes where we didn’t get back and against a team like that, you can’t do that.”
(On Al Jefferson’s play) “I thought he did good. He played hard and I was going to get him out at about the eight minute mark (4th quarter) to give him a couple of minutes of rest, but when he came out of the game, he was getting stiff. He asked me to put him back in and let him play so we left him out there.”
(On the Rockets play with James Harden and Dwight Howard) “You are talking about an elite perimeter player and an elite post player and they were both playing to their strengths. Harden is one of the 5 or 6 best offensive perimeter players in the league and Dwight has led the league in rebounding maybe three times. They played to their strengths and we weren’t able to hold them when we needed to.”
(On the teams play) “We didn’t play very well and we made too many mistakes. We missed a lot of rotations. We just made too many mistakes and at one point we gave ourselves a chance to win but those small mistakes really killed us.”
(On Al Jefferson’s play) “He struggled a little bit at times, but you could tell at times he started to get tired. For a guy that his missed as much times as he has, he looked good to me. As the season goes forward, he will be fine. He just has to find his rhythm and we have to get used to playing with him. He’s definitely going to be a huge help to us.”
(On the Rockets) “They are good. It’s tough when you have a player like James Harden and you have Dwight with him and they have few other guys like Chandler and guys around him who can make shots. It’s tough to guard them in the pick and roll. It’s a good addition with Dwight I think.”
(On his first game with the Bobcats) “I was a little rusty and I most definitely am not in game shape and I missed a lot of shots I would normally make. I haven’t played in two and a half weeks, but it was just good to get back out there. I thought we played well enough to win, but we made too many mistakes against a great team and you cant make mistakes like on their home floor. I felt good for the most part and will continue to get better,”
(On the Rockets) “That’s part of the NBA (playing against two big names) and they did a good job fronting me and it’s always tough to keep those big boys off the boards but its all part of the game. It’s the best of the best.”
The Rockets won their home opener by a 96-83 count tonight over the Bobcats in front of a sellout crowd of 18,083.
Houston finished with 54 boards and took a double-digit edge in rebounds tonight (+17, 54-37). The Rockets averaged 53.7 rebounds over their final three preseason outings.
The Rockets held the Bobcats to 33-of-90 (.367) shooting tonight. Over the final three preseason games, Houston also limited its opponents to 86.7 points per game on just 95-of-251 (.378) shooting.
Dwight Howard made his Rockets regular season debut by posting 17 points (8-14 FG), 26 boards and two steals, equaling his career high of 26 rebounds done twice before (26 on 4/15/06 vs. Philadelphia and 26 on 1/6/13 vs. Denver). Howard now owns 63 career 20-rebound games. The most rebounds by a player making his Rockets debut is 33 boards by Charles Barkley at Phoenix (11/2/96).
Despite a stiff back, James Harden led the Rockets with 21 points (7-16 FG, 6-6 FT) and five assists tonight. Including this preseason, Harden has scored exactly 21 points in five of eight games played.
Francisco Garcia went 5-of-9 (.556) from beyond the arc en route to 19 points (7-13 FG) tonight. Garcia finished this preseason 15-of-32 (.469) from 3-point range.
Jeremy Lin came off the bench tonight with 16 points (5-7 FG, 4-6 FT) and two assists. Lin was a perfect 20-for-20 from the free throw line this preseason.
Omer Asik grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in his start at center tonight. Asik now owns 67 career 10-plus rebounding games.
Patrick Beverley took a shot to the ribs in the first half and did not return to the game.
Josh McRoberts led five Bobcats in double-figure scoring with 15 points (5-9 FG, 3-4 3FG)
Kemba Walker, who had 35 points (12-21 FG, 6-7 3FG, 5-6 FT) against the Rockets last season at Charlotte (1/21/13), recorded 12 points (5-10 FG), five assists and a game-high four steals tonight.