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3 takeaways from the Rockets’ 134-96 preseason victory over the Spurs 

N.B. Lindberg
San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets
San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets / Alex Bierens de Haan/GettyImages
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The Houston Rockets started preseason with a bang. Their 134-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs was a wire-to-wire demolition. The Spurs scored the game’s first basket, and it was their only lead of the game. The Rockets' defense enveloped the Spurs, who shot 35.5% from the field and 26.2% from three, while their offense scorched the nets. 

The preseason doesn’t count, but it matters, and the Rockets looked excellent on both sides of the ball. While the Rockets won’t shoot 45.7% from three every night, there are plenty of positive takeaways and areas where the team will need to improve. These are the three biggest takeaways from the Rockets demolition derby of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Takeaway #3: The Rockets won’t three-peat at the bottom

The Rockets have finished with the worst record in the NBA the past two seasons. No team in NBA history has ever three-peated at the bottom. It’s incredible to hear, but it’s easier to be the best team in the NBA for an extended stretch than it is to be the worst. 

While the Rockets’ performance was impressive, it’s the performance of the Spurs that makes their quest to avoid unwanted history so certain. The Spurs looked like an absolute dumpster fire. They’ll have far better nights, but to lose that resoundingly to a team that will struggle to win 30 games tells you everything you need to know. 

The Spurs are firmly in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstake and are in pole position to rack up the best lottery odds. Greg Popovich is a legend, but even he will struggle to turn this side into a 25-win team. Only a year ago, the Rockets were in the same shoes as the Spurs. However, after a pair of strong drafts, a team’s fortunes can change quickly. 

Takeaway #2: Bari and Tari are for real

Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason, the third and 17th overall picks in the 2022 NBA draft, are as advertised on defense. Smith’s ability to close out on 3-point shooters and alter shots is special. While he didn’t register a block, on multiple occasions, he altered an attempt so demonstrably that its flight looked comical. 

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Eason’s defense also popped all night long. He snagged two steals and showed the instincts that made him a terror in the NCAA and an urban legend at NBA Summer League. His ability to gamble for turnovers without losing his assignment was uncanny for a young player. 

Smith and Eason’s defensive impact has the potential to be special, but they also flashed on the offensive side of the ball. Smith scored 21 points on five of eight 3-point shooting, and Eason also dropped 21 points going nine of 13 from the field. They’ll face stiffer competition in the future, but for their first taste of NBA action, it was about as good as it gets. 

Takeaway #1: The offense is still a work in progress

The Rockets absolutely dominated the Spurs, and their three most talented offensive players all had poor games. Jalen Green scored seven points on three of 12 shooting, Kevin Porter Jr. scored nine on three of nine shooting, and Alperen Sengun scored 13 on an efficient five of six shooting but paired it with five turnovers. 

In the regular season against stiffer competition, the Rockets will need to have Porter, Green, and Sengun clicking to put up points. One area to watch throughout the preseason is how the team reacts when Sengun gets the ball in the high post. Too often Sengun would get the ball in the high post, and his teammates would be stagnant or run for a dribble handoff. 

Sengun is a great passer, and when operating out of the high post, there should be a steady flow of cuts and off-ball movement to take advantage of it. In game one of the preseason, it looked like the Rockets ran two offenses simultaneously when Sengun got the ball.  

Green and Porter both looked sharp outside of their shooting. In particular, Green’s three assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes is encouraging. If he can handle a heavier offensive load, it could bring out the best in him and Porter, who was excellent on catch and shoot threes last season. 

The Rockets need this trio to gel on offense if they want any chance to surprise this season. Each of Green, Sengun and Porter have talent, but how it ultimately comes together in a team context will determine if the Rockets are a fun team with flashes of brilliance or a scary team that contenders know they can’t sleep on.    

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