Signs of a likely ro­ta­tion

Fi­nal tuneup hints at good bal­ance; D’An­toni gives subs, likely starters mean­ing­ful min­utes

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - JONATHAN FEIGEN

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.”

Karen Pulfer Focht / As­so­ci­ated Press

Rock­ets guard Chris Paul, left, tries to find op­er­at­ing room against the de­fense of Griz­zlies cen­ter Marc Ga­sol.

Karen Pulfer Focht / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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