The New Orleans Pelicans are going to be good, but not 131-112 good, which is exactly what they put on the hometown Rockets in the first game of the season Wednesday night. Calls from pundits suggested the losses the Rockets had in the offseason would make them a worse defensive team, but no one likely believed it would be this bad.
Granted, the Pelicans aren't normally going to shoot 53 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, but the Rockets confusion on defense and, as coach Mike D'Antoni admitted after the game, "panic" and fatigue certainly made it easier on Anthony Davis and company.
The game was out of reach early in the second quarter and blown out by the third on layup after layup by the Pelicans peppered with mostly open three pointers. Rockets players were caught flat footed on back doors, mismatched on switches with big men and out of position on double teams. Many of the fears that losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute would hurt their defense were made manifest if only for one night.
In some ways, New Orleans represents a bad matchup for the Rockets. They have loads of length and talent in the front court with Davis and the recently acquired Julius Randle, who routinely torched the Rockets last year. He went off for 25 on Wednesday while Davis had 32 and stretch four Nikola Miritic went off for 30 on 6-8 from downtown.
The Rockets, on the other hand, struggled offensively shooting 42 percent from the floor and hitting only 16 of their 48 shots from beyond the arc. There were some pretty anomalous stats in this one for a team that will certainly be better as the season progresses. Clint Capela, who led the league in field goal percentage, shot under 50 percent, struggling to make layups. Eric Gordon went 2-9 from three though he led the team in scoring with 21.
And the Rockets best players were subdued with Harden just shy of a triple double with 19 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds and Chris Paul chipping in 19. But, neither had a big game and were a -23 and -19 respectively on the floor.
D'Antoni said after the game that the Rockets will definitely be good and there is little doubt of that. But, it is clear they still have a lot of work to do. They looked confused on defense much of the night and the offense didn't exactly flow smoothly. With a few minor injuries during the preseason, the team's usual rotation didn't even play together until the final game of the exhibition season. But, with 65 wins last year and plenty of talent, it's hard to imagine a worse start for this team.
They will most certainly bounce back, but for one night at least, they are who many thought they might be, and perhaps a little worse.
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