With each victory and impressive performance, the Houston Rockets nudge their season-opening three-game skid deeper into the recesses of their collective memory.
That fact doesn’t mean Houston coach Ime Udoka has let go of every detail from those early losses, particularly the Rockets’ overtime setback in San Antonio that preceded their current seven-game homestand. Udoka frequently references that defeat as a reminder of what happens when Houston doesn’t see things through to the end.
Perhaps a few more victories like the Rockets’ 128-94 demolition of the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday will allow Udoka to forget. The Rockets led wire to wire and extended their winning streak to four games, a run that featured 18- and 25-point victories over the Sacramento Kings.
Houston will attempt to keep the good times rolling on Friday when it hosts the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Rockets’ plus-5.9 net rating, fifth-best in the NBA, confirms that things are going well.
“We’re taking the right steps and we’re confident in what we’re doing, and it’s jelling quicker than what some thought already,” Udoka said. “I keep looking back and mentioning the San Antonio game — tough one there. We could be even better (record-wise). Even in the games we lost we were in them.
“We felt we were going in the right direction even with the losses and now we’ve put a few together and it’s good for them to see and feel success. Just try to emulate that every game: unselfish offense, aggressive defense. It’s a pretty easy recipe.”
Jalen Green went off for 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting (5-of-6 from 3-point range) against the Lakers, while Houston held Los Angeles to a season-low in points.
That Houston has fashioned a top-10 defense comes as a surprise given how mightily the Rockets struggled on that end of the court in recent seasons. It would be reductive reasoning to only credit the addition of a few veterans to their rotation. In addition to roster adjustments, the Rockets have bought into what is required to thrive defensively.
“We’ve been working on this since preseason,” Rockets swingman Jae’Sean Tate said. “We showed glimpses of what it could be early on and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re going to continue to get better.”
With their 122-101 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, the Pelicans suffered a third consecutive double-digit defeat. New Orleans could use a reprieve from attrition; six Pelicans were sidelined in Minnesota, including starters Zion Williamson (personal), CJ McCollum (lung) and Herbert Jones (leg).
It’s challenging to create any semblance of momentum with so many primary contributors unavailable. The same cohesion that has enabled the Rockets to find their footing early in the schedule has eluded the Pelicans with a rotation decimated by injuries.
“We all know we have to do a bit more with guys out,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We’ll recover, get some rest and get back after it on Friday.”
–Field Level Media