This is the sound of excitement in the air as the Rockets release their balloons with a pre-season performance full of promise.
The Toronto Rockets felt like a team where only five players were active for the game, with four of them (Sengun, Tate, Green, Smith) having never played regular-season basketball together. As for the others, this marked their debut in a regular-season match.
What unfolded on the court wasn’t a justification but rather a chance for substantial enhancement.
The Rockets flipped the script from their previous season’s performance. They managed to salvage a pretty good defense with some remarkable plays in the first three quarters. They held the Magic to three out of twelve from beyond the arc, evening out the assists.
They also suffered a painful turnover count, but the Magic turned Rockets’ 56-31 and 16 aggressive rebounds into wasted opportunities.
Leaving aside the third quarter, the majority of the game showcased the Magic’s extra effort, reduced errors, and their push towards the Rockets.
Orlando began the game (3-3) with a splendid 3-point shooting display by Franz Wagner, ending the first quarter with a nine-point lead. Most of those open looks were a result of Jalen Green’s defensive lapses. Good Wagner couldn’t make another three-pointer in seven attempts.
However, as the quarter drew to a close, Orlando’s advantage had diminished.
Aminu Thompson came in as a second point guard to give Fred VanVleet some rest, but he quickly made a series of nervous mistakes, with Magic players attacking his dribble and injuring him whenever they could. It didn’t work.
Aminu looked scared early on, like a shaky rookie, and I doubt that such an approach would work long-term.
The Rockets fell eleven points behind. The new coach Ime Udoka has to address the effort and errors because the Rockets started the second half like a different team, emphasizing defense and the three-pointers from Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks.
The Rockets’ starters, mainly Sengun, Brooks, and VanVleet, cut down the Magic’s lead to one point. Then, the bench came in, and the Rockets crumbled.
The next quarter’s description is no other way to put it, as they were outscored by more than 29 points. The Magic certainly had a good game, but for Orlando, apart from Cole Anthony, who was ahead with 8-12,
there wasn’t a standout performance, except for the exceptional rebounding by Scottie Barnes. A lot of uncontested rebounds and mishaps allowed him to jump into the Rockets’ rebounders and wreak havoc.
Tonight, there were essentially two big issues. The Rockets wanted to play fantastic defense, grab rebounds, steal the ball, gain extra control, and play a big game overall. The Magic also wanted to do the same.
Whether you believe it or not, they have a group of young players who can do that, and they are pretty much bigger or equal to the Rockets at every position, especially with Jonathan Isaac actually playing and playing well.
Furthermore, despite Brooks and VanVleet putting up strong performances, they didn’t serve as the main point generators for the Rockets, and for the Rockets to secure numerous victories, they cannot rely on them in that capacity.
Jalen Green looked genuinely terrifying tonight, with 1 rebound, 0 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and 4 turnovers, shooting 2-10 from the field.
Jalen Smith’s performance was equally lackluster, shooting 3-9 from the three-point line, missing all four attempts, while contributing five rebounds, one assist, one steal, and eventually fouling out. Bench players and Isaac might not be a great matchup for him, but he has to handle these matchups.
It was a rather disappointing night for the Rockets, but losing in disappointment will likely be a hasty conclusion.
It’s primarily a brand-new team, featuring a completely fresh coaching staff, and they must reacquaint themselves with both offensive and defensive strategies while determining the most effective player rotation.
It’s a journey that will demand a considerable amount of time.
In the game tonight, Alperen Sengun was essentially the only bright spot for the Rockets, as Amin had a bit of an introduction to the NBA, but he showed significant improvement in the second half.
(Compare that to the Magic, where they played their rookie PG, Anthony Black, only when the game was well in hand.)
Some people have commented that despite the recently drafted players playing, the Magic is looking better. That’s true. Unfortunately, it feels like the young Rockets are essentially restarting their careers. Alperen Sengun (14 points / 6-11 / 8 rebounds / 6 assists / 1 block) was an exception.
When I often wrote about tanking and rebuilding for player development in the previous season, that this year was still precious for player development, and they weren’t thrown into the deep end only because the team intended to be bad, that’s what I meant.
Jalen Green and Jalen Smith can be considered rookies in some aspects. Jalen needs to learn to play smart within the confines of real defense, and Jalen needs to learn to play in any crime.