The Houston Rockets were back at home last night as they were hosting the Utah Jazz in a rematch of the Western Conference Semifinals from a year ago.
The offenses for both teams were stagnant to begin the game, but for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell caught fire in the second half and was able to help the Jazz stay ahead of the Rockets every time Houston would try to make a run at the lead.
The Rockets had their chances, but between an awful shooting night from Eric Gordon and Chris Paul’s suspension, they just didn’t have enough firepower to sustain a long run. Additionally, James Harden left the game with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter due to hamstring tightness. It took Houston over three minutes to score their first bucket after Harden left the game. By then, the game was practically over.
The Rockets lost their second straight game on Wednesday night and have lost three of their first four games to open up the season, but their were some bright spots in their loss to the Jazz.
Here are four observations from Wednesday’s 89-100 loss against the Utah Jazz.
Next: No. 4
Carmelo Anthony looks more comfortable
The biggest take away from last night’s game was that Carmelo Anthony continues to show improvement as he begins to get more acclimated to the Rockets system.
Carmelo Anthony had his best game of the very young season last night as he finished with 22 points and 7 rebounds on 52.9 percent shooting.
Carmelo Anthony was not only effective on offense, but in the fourth quarter when the Rockets began making their final run at regaining the lead, Anthony was solid on defense too.
The most important thing that Anthony has shown is more familiarity with how the Rockets want things ran.
The first game of the season, Anthony was reluctant to take the first shot he had, but as the season has gone on, he has began to let it fly with more confidence.
On defense, he is not struggling with communication on switches as he did in the first game against the Pelicans, and while he still struggles when he is isolated at the top of the key, overall he seems to be picking up the Rockets system quickly which is a very strong positive in what has so far been a disappointing start to the season.
Next: No. 3
James Harden’s injury
The biggest observation from last night’s game is the hamstring injury that Rockets star James Harden suffered in the final minutes of the game.
The severity of the injury is still unknown as Harden will be evaluated on Thursday and then a timetable for his return will be set.
Outside of this injury, James Harden has seemed a little off to begin the season.
His numbers are still there, but his impact in games has not been as high as last season. Harden finished with 29 points and seemed to be getting a rhythm along with the entire team late in the fourth quarter but that was all derailed with his injury.
The reason Harden does not look the same is his struggles from the free throw line. Harden missed another three free throws last night and is shooting just 73.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Harden also has a tendency to over dribble, which leads to a stagnant offense, turnovers and then easy points for the opponent in transition. Harden has to carry more of the load with CP3 out, but he has to initiate the offense earlier in the shot clock, especially against elite defensive teams like Utah.
Next: No. 2
The Rockets need bigs
All season long the Rockets have struggled to box out and get rebounds.
Houston has allowed second chance points left and right in the first four games of the season and last night was no exception.
It is no surprise that the Rockets have struggled in this category as they have only had two big men active for the season. However, Clint Capela is the only center receiving real minutes as Isaiah Hartenstein isn’t really apart of the rotation.
The Rockets need a real back up center so that they aren’t undersized against every opponent’s second unit. Both Nene and Marquese Chriss would aid the Rockets tremendously in the rebounding effort. Much of this struggle has led to second chance points which is a big reason why the Rockets are 1-3 to start the season.
Next: No. 1
Michael Carter-Williams has been a complete disappointment
Before the season began, many people believed Michael Carter-Williams had a chance to play a huge role for the Rockets this season.
Unfortunately, all the success Carter-Williams had in the preseason has since evaporated and he has been huge negative for the Rockets.
Opposing teams are not even guarding him at the 3 point line, and stingy regular season defenses have cut out most of his driving lanes.
Carter-Williams’s time is running out to stay in the rotation and the bell may have already tolled on his opportunity as Paul returns on Friday.
Depending on the severity of James Harden’s injury, Carter-Williams’s minutes will vary now, and once Brandon Knight returns, it is hard to see Carter-Williams having any minutes down the stretch.