(CTN News) – With their encouraging preseason performance, the Rockets inflated a balloon.
Among the Rockets active for tonight’s game, only five players (Sengun, Tate, Green, Smith) had played together in a regular season game. The rest hadn’t. They hadn’t played a minute for this coaching staff. That’s not an excuse, but I do think it matters. In that sense, it matters.
Rockets turned the script on past seasons. Good defense for 2.5 quarters. 9-34 (35%) vs 12-34 (35%). Equal assists. In addition, they turned the ball over a lot and were outrebounded 56-31.
Except for a period in the third quarter, the Magic played harder, made fewer mistakes, and took it to the Rockets.
Rockets started slowly again. Jabari Smith and Jalen Green made a series of foolish early turnovers. They never looked back.
Early in the quarter, Franz Wagner made some surprisingly good 3pt shots (3-3), most of which came off Jabari Smith Jr.’s defensive miscues. It wasn’t Wagner’s third three pointer in seven attempts, but that was the margin of Orlando’s lead.
As a result, the Rockets were able to hold the Magic to 25 points, but could only manage 23 themselves, a slight improvement over the dismal 20 points they managed in the first quarter.
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He immediately turned the ball over, and made one sped-up panicky mistake after another as Magic players attacked his dribble and bodied him whenever they could to slow him down. Amen looked awful early on, like a shaken rookie, but it won’t last.
Halftime: 10 points down. Rockets started the second half with tough defense and a barrage of three-pointers from Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. VanVleet, Brooks, and Sengun trimmed the Magic’s lead.
As the bench entered, the Rockets collapsed. The next quarter was dominated by 29 points. Orlando played well, but nobody on Orlando had an especially good night, except Cole Anthony, who was allowed to jump and crash into Rockets rebounders for reasons best known to Scooter The Ref.
Two major problems tonight. Getting rebounds, running, stealing the ball, and getting extra possessions are the Rockets’ top priorities. It’s about the same for the Magic. In almost every position, they have players as big or bigger than the Rockets, and a similar bench. At present, they also have a far more competent bench, especially with Jonathan Isaac playing.
Brooks and VanVleet can’t win many games for the Rockets. Their role isn’t theirs. Green went 2-10, had 1 rebound, 0 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and 4 turnovers. He had five rebounds, an assist, a turnover, and fouled out. Matchups like Banchero and Isaac await.
The Rockets had a pretty deflating night, but it’s far too early to despair. There is an almost all-new coaching staff, and a new system of offense and defense must be learned, as well as what rotations to use. It’ll take time.
In the second half, Alperen Sengun looked much better than Amen, who had a rough start to the NBA. In contrast, the Magic only played Anthony Black when the game was well in hand.
Even though they played a lot of recently drafted players, the Magic simply looked better. It’s true. It feels like the Rockets are starting over. Only Alperen Sengun (14pts/6-11/8rbs/6ast/1TO) scored in double figures.
It’s not a bad idea to tank and rebuild, as these years are still precious for player development, as I wrote last season. They might be considered almost rookies. Neither Jabari nor Jalen can play well in any offense.
A note on the Celtics team under Ime Udoka: they started 4-6, and 19-21 for their first 40 games, but then went on to win 32 of their next 42 games. Aspirations and talent were higher on that team. The team had been coached by Brad Stevens. Rockets need a lot of teaching from Ime and Co.
Never give up. We won’t know much until 20 games. Hopefully, things will improve sooner than this.