Houston Rockets need a sense of urgency right out of the gate

Houston Rockets (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets need to get off to a fast start in the regular season, especially after a disappointing 11-14 start to last year.

With the regular season only weeks away the Houston Rockets are looking to reverse last year’s slow start by putting more of a focus in early season games. The first week of the season offers a mixture of title hopefuls, up-and-coming teams and possible lottery teams. Recently, Mike D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen (subscription required) that the Rockets can’t afford another shaky start like they had last season.

Everybody is saying we’re going to be good. And everybody said it last year coming off 65 wins. And we start off 11-14. We cannot do that this year. We stressed that we got to go now. We can’t wait until it’s too late. We opened up last year and lost by (19) points (to the New Orleans Pelicans.) I’m looking at we have to be more ready than we were last year. It’s a big point we’re going to make. They have to understand the urgency of it. We don’t start the middle of November. We start the middle of October. To get ready for it, not take anything for granted.”

Milwaukee Bucks

2018-19 record: 60-22

No notable losses or additions

This year the opening night opponent should have the Houston Rockets’ full attention. The Milwaukee Bucks, led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, finished last year with the league’s best record.

Bringing back the same core that posted the best differential in the league at plus-8.8 (a full 2 points higher than second place), the Bucks pose a much-needed barometer for the new-look Rockets. The Rockets dropped both games to the Bucks last year, losing 108-94 in Milwaukee and 116-109 in Houston. The Rockets shot under 40 percent in both games while being outrebounded in both contests. Obviously, this is a losing formula that has to be corrected on opening night.

New Orleans Pelicans

2018-19 record: 33-49

Notable additions: Rookie Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram

Notable losses: Anthony Davis

A lot has changed since the Houston Rockets faced off against the Pelicans last year on opening night. Gone is cornerstone Anthony Davis and in came Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and of course first overall pick Zion Williamson. It’s a totally new team so it’s hard to equate last year’s play to success against the Pelicans this year as the Rockets split the four-game series. The Rockets will need to limit their turnovers and crash the boards which will keep the young Pelicans from getting out on the break. With a young, athletic team like the Pelicans, you want to slow them down and keep them in a half-court set to make them beat the defense instead of giving up easy baskets in transition.

Oklahoma City Thunder

2018-19 record: 49-33

Notable additions: Chris Paul, Danilo GallinariShai Gilgeous-Alexander

Notable losses: Rusell Westbrook, Paul George

Chris Paul is the highlight of the third game of the season as the future Hall of Famer returns for his first game against the Houston Rockets. Just like the New Orleans Pelicans, the Thunder will look totally different from the team that bowed out in the first round via a Damian Lillard 35-footer to close out the series. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are gone and Chris Paul (for now) and Danilo Gallinari make up the team’s new one-two punch. The Thunder at best will be a fringe playoff team but emotional games like this can easily go either way. The Thunder were primarily a defense first team that played at a high pace but with Paul running the point they will play at a slower pace. Expect a long-standing and loud ovation when Paul makes his return to Space City.

Washington Wizards

2018-19 record: 32-50

Notable additions: Rookie Rui Hachimura

No notable losses

A lottery team last year, the Wizards are led by one of the best guards in the league in Bradley Beal. John Wall is still likely to miss all of next year so Beal will have to carry Washington on his shoulders once again. There are some young up-and-coming players like Thomas Bryant and rookie Rui Hachimura. The Rockets will be heavy favorites in this game and if they want to be a championship team, they must take care of business against teams that will probably be in the lottery.

Brooklyn Nets

2018-19 record: 42-40

Notable additions: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving

Notable losses: D’Angelo Russell

The Brooklyn Nets were right at the forefront of an offseason of change. D’Angelo Russell was traded in a package to the Warriors for Kevin Durant and the team signed Kyrie Irving in free agency. Even though Durant will miss most or all of the season, the Rockets will be facing Kyrie Irving and a very talented team that made a playoff run with a core of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Rockets split the season series with Brooklyn last year and in Houston’s 145-142 loss, James Harden scored 58 points. Even without Durant, this game will be a challenge against a much improved Brooklyn team.

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In a loaded Western Conference with multiple championship contenders, a fast start is essential to gaining one of the four top seeds and securing home court advantage for the postseason. The first five games do provide some challenges but with an improved roster and laser-like focus out of the gate, the Rockets should start the first week off 5-0 and spend the season at the top of the league.