Signs of a likely rotation
Final tuneup hints at good balance; D’Antoni gives subs, likely starters meaningful minutes
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With the Rockets on their best roll of the preseason Friday night, firing 3-pointers until their lead reached 27 midway through the second quarter, Chris Paul went Curly Neal through a possession, with the notable exception of how it ended.
Paul finished by beating the shot clock with a 30-footer, inspiring coach Mike D’Antoni to turn to the scorers’ table, shake his head and say, “That’s not fair.”
Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff was out of earshot, but had to feel the same way.
The Rockets’ scorching shooting could not last, but nothing looked fluky about the way they got those shots in a final dress rehearsal for Wednesday’s season opener, showing their planned regular-season rotation on the way to a 121-103 romp past the Grizzlies.
As expected, P.J. Tucker and
James Ennis III started at the forward spots, Carmelo Anthony and Eric Gordon came off the bench, and the Rockets drained 3s until they turned the night into a final preseason road workout before moving on to games that count. They don’t expect any of that to change, least of all their ability to get open looks.
“As good as this team is, almost every time down the court, we should for sure get a good shot, an open look every time,” Gordon said. “That’s how we should play. We just got to continue to make the game easier on one another. We know what kind of team we are and what we need to be. We just have to continue to strive. We’re ready for the season.”
The Rockets hit 14 3pointers in the first half, finishing 20-of-47 from deep, in a rout never in doubt after a stunning first-half run. Yet, as well as the Rockets shot in that run to a 54-27 lead, what was most impressive — and they hope, most telling — was the way they got their open shots.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Paul said. “The pace we were playing, we were getting 3s and getting stops. That’s how we want to play. In transition like that, we are tough to defend. We’ll take those shots any night.”
Only slightly more revealing than the Rockets’ happiness to fire away from distance and at high speed was the rotation D’Antoni said he had settled on for the start of the season. Anthony was at the scorers’ table to check in barely four minutes into the first half and three minutes into the second half, replacing Tucker at power forward to allow Tucker to return minutes later at backup center.
Gordon played in roughly the same role as he had last season, coming in for Paul midway through the first and third quarters and then playing next to James Harden and eventually with Paul until all three finished the first half. But in his first game back after sitting out with a sore Achilles, Gordon played only the first half.
“That was the plan all along,” Gordon said. “I’m fine. My goal was just to be ready for the season. I’ll be ready.”
Other than adding Michael Carter-Williams to the mix, there would seem little reason to change anything with the rotation. Even with the small lineups, the Rockets grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, scoring 20 secondchance points. They were so quick in their switches and double-teams inside, they had 17 steals, leading to 31 points off turnovers. Mostly, they moved the ball to take 47 3-pointers, seeming to force few.
“That’s what we do,” Tucker said. “That’s what we look for. That’s how we practice.”
They would like to do that when the games count, but as with the rotation the Rockets brought out for the final preseason game, they saw no reason to change.
“We’re really explosive,” D’Antoni said. “We might not play real well, then all of a sudden you have five or six minutes that we get on top of teams. We have so many guys that can do it, Melo, James Ennis, James Harden, Chris Paul, P.J.’s at the five, there’s a lot of guys that are lethal. Gary Clark played well again. Eric played well. It’s pretty good. I can’t complain.”
Rockets guard Chris Paul, left, tries to find operating room against the defense of Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.
The Grizzlies’ Chandler Parsons, right, puts up a defensive front against the Rockets’ James Harden, who had 23 points on 7-for-15 shooting in 34 minutes.