For the first time since the trade that sent seven-time All-NBA guard James Harden to Brooklyn, the Houston Rockets on Tuesday featured both John Wall and Victor Oladipo in their backcourt.
The early results, as to be expected, were uneven. But down the stretch, Wall and Oladipo teamed to lead Houston to a 107-88 victory over the Washington Wizards that extended the Rockets’ winning streak to a season-best three games.
The Rockets will be seeking more of the same from Wall and Oladipo — who combined for 44 points, seven rebounds and six assists — on Thursday at Toyota Center when they host the Portland Trail Blazers.
Their first foray together showcased plenty of reasons for optimism. With Houston clinging to a four-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Wizards, Wall and Oladipo combined to spearhead a 10-0 run that enabled the Rockets to finally seize control.
“It takes guys a minute to learn how to play together,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who used the word “disjointed” to describe the early moments for Wall and Oladipo. “This was just game one. It took them three quarters to figure it out a little bit. The fourth quarter was good.
“They were figuring out how they could make each other better and how they could let each other play to each other’s strengths. Getting the ball up the floor a little quicker I think helps both guys. If we have options ahead of the ball and aren’t playing against a set defense or if they can have some sort of action where they’re playing together, that is good stuff for us.”
The Rockets needing a handful of games together to mesh comes as little surprise. Houston turned over its roster during the offseason and moving Harden to the Nets only exacerbated the challenge of developing a new style of play with new players under a first-year head coach.
Establishing a different identity requires time. From the outside looking in, the Rockets resemble a team unfamiliar to those accustomed to watching Harden dominate the ball over the years.
“Houston’s a different team now than they were before when they had James Harden,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It seems like offensively there’s more movement, there’s more passing.
“It just seems like they’re playing with more enthusiasm. So I know they got off to a slow start; there was a lot of drama. But now it seems like they’re playing really well together.”
Injuries have knocked the Trail Blazers off their early stride, with both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum sidelined for extended periods. Portland is 2-3 following a four-game winning streak and will open a six-game road trip in Houston with additional roster uncertainty as Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. are listed as questionable to play against Houston.
The Rockets appear to be ascending. Portland can’t be all too concerned with that fact.
“The only thing we’re doing is we’re not worried about anyone else,” Portland center Enes Kanter said. “We’re worried about us. We’re going to go out there and play our game and focus on what we need to focus on and just go out there and start the road (trip) right.”
–Field Level Media