Rockets vs. Sharks was more than just a preseason blowout

Oct 1, 2019
PHOTO: AP

Smack in the middle of the Media Day festivities is the highly anticipated preseason game between the Houston Rockets and the Shanghai Sharks.

Fans have been longing for some NBA action for months now, which is why it didn't matter even it came in the form of a Western Conference semifinalist versus the team known for being owned by former Rocket Yao Ming. The final score of 140-71 in favor of the Rockets, in the words of Thanos, was inevitable.

Still, there was more to this Houston-Shanghai matchup than an early blowout and James Harden and Russell Westbrook's dance moves.

Beard the first rulebender

Of course, James had to break out his new move: the one-legged three.

Call it illegal or unfair, but we expect the 2018 MVP to keep innovating and challenging the norm (see video below) until the referee blows his whistle. He messed around in the first half and got a triple-double (10 points, 12 rebounds, 17 assists), with a noticeably more agile Clint Capela (25 pts, 10 reb, 19 min) as his most willing recipient. It felt like a typical usual summer pickup game based on how things came easily for the Beard.

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If this trend of Harden being the primary ballhandler continues well into the season, Russ has to shoot drastically better from deep than his 29 percent last season to maximize Houston's record-breaking, live-or-die offense (No. 1 in threes made with 1,323 in 2018-19).

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Here's Donnie!

Outside another former Rocket in James Nunnally (16 points, 7 rebound), the Lithuanian big man was the lone bright spot for the Sharks with his team-high 27 points, 11 rebounds, and three steals.

We almost forgot that Donatas Motiejunas still existed after he shunned the Spurs for the CBA last April. The 29-year-old center-power forward, whom Houston signed in 2012 and averaged 12 points per game in the 2014-15 season, reintroduced himself with an array of smooth post moves, slick passing, and stretch potential a la legendary Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis.

Ironically, the Rockets need a playmaking big like Donnie to shore up their aging frontcourt backups in 37-year-old Nene and Tyson Chandler, 36. Was this game a tryout?

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    Rocket fuel reserve

    As thin as Houston is up front, the team is teeming with capable wings. This says a lot about Coach Mike D'Antoni's signature pace-and-space approach, at the same time offers a quick preview of the ex-Thunders' supporting cast.

    Aside from the usual suspects like Gerald Green (21 points, 5 3pt) and Eric Gordon (9 points, 3 3pt), a couple of young perimeter players showed up versus Shanghai. God knows how many times former No. 7 pick's Ben McLemore (17 points, 5 3pt) has gotten a fresh start in his six years in the league. He was drafted by Sacramento, signed with the Grizzlies, then returned to Sacramento before getting waived. In theory, the 26-year-old athletic shooter's style of play fits the Rockets system — the question is, can he physically deliver on a consistent basis?

    On the other hand, Chris Clemons played like someone who was fighting for a roster spot and wound up with 21 points, five threes, and four assists. The 5'9" guard from Campbell and NCAA top scorer didn't get selected in the 2019 draft but was saved by Houston. He has since repaid their trust by averaging 20.8 points (43.1 3pt shooting percentage) in five Summer League games and a preseason performance that will have the front office thinking hard about his contract.

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    This is Danuel's House

    His numbers (8 points, 6 rebounds, 15 min) don't do Danuel justice, but we're projecting him as an integral piece off the Rockets' bench.

    Westbrook will most likely supplant the returning swingman in the starting five, which would allow D'Antoni to run a faster three-guard lineup. This won't diminish House's value, though, in terms of intangibles, which shined against the Sharks with the way he attacked the rim and crashed the boards — his overall body language. Houston made the right business decision to lock up the 26-year-old 6'7" tweener to a three-year, $11 million extension earlier this year.

    Don't be surprised if Danuel gives PJ Tucker a run for his money midway through the season.

    NBA, we have a problem

    Oh, we're so ready for more of this:

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    The Brodie, who was reported to miss at least their first two preseason games coming off arthroscopic knee surgery, didn't even have to dress to make his presence felt on the court. A closer look at the end of each highlight (see video below) show the 2017 MVP leading the bench celebrations. And if you know Westbrook, he isn't one to skimp on emotion when reacting to big plays.

    Can Russ remain as James' biggest cheerleader — and vice versa — as the season progresses? Will the concoction of brotherly affinity, individual talent, controlled chaos, and negative narrative enough to cure what ails both of them during the playoffs?

    Only Opening Night will tell.

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    PHOTO: AP
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