Denver Nuggets 105, Houston Rockets 85: Embarrassed in the opener

  • This was about as ugly as it can get for a team that fancies itself a contender.  The starters looked completely out of sorts, and even worse, soft and lethargic, offensively.  At the other end, Denver seemed to do whatever it wanted, shooting 51% on the night, and a blistering 48% on 3’s.  I forgot how bad this system can look when shots aren’t falling: a lot of one on one, and standing around, and nothing past the initial pick and roll; adding Lawson wasn’t going to magically change that lack of creativity.  Houston was a step or three slow defensively on rotations and just looked completely overmatched inside.  James Harden and Ty Lawson went a combined 9-31 from the floor.  Terrence Jones got his shot blocked on seemingly every play.  Clint Capela wasn’t ready for primetime.
  • But it’s going to be okay.  Lawson and Harden will figure it out, as primary ball-handlers serving as teammates have often had to do.  They were clearly feeling each other out, with Lawson especially overly deferential to the team’s established star.  That will change naturally, with time, and you’ll see more Harden off the ball, and more sets involving both players with double pick and rolls.  (On the latter, I hope).
  • As bad as this was, there were several bright spots.  Houston played its best with Pat Beverley and rookie Montrezl Harrell sharing the floor, along with Corey Brewer, blitzing the Nuggets at a frantic pace.  That trio will eat up bench units with relentlessness and physicality alone.  Add in Clint Capela, upon Dwight Howard’s return, and Houston’s bench looks like, as expected, it will be Houston’s strength this season.  During one stretch in the first half, Harrell did whatever he wanted, finishing off the catch and even scoring on a nifty post move he wasn’t supposed to have.  In the third, Beverley got every rebound that was there to be had.  He somehow actually had another gear.  This bench is going to murder people; the starters will just have to figure out their part.
  • Harrell’s surprise play, from preseason and into tonight, thickens the plot in what was already the most fascinating storyline of the year.  As I had been writing since summer, one of Donatas Motiejunas or Terrence Jones almost surely will be dealt, in-season, with both men expected massive raises.  What unfolds if Harrell develops at this current rate?  The fear in trading Jones, or even Motiejunas, in theory, would be that in making a deal to save dollars tomorrow, Daryl Morey would be crippling his team’s current chances by removing a vital rotation cog.  In a trade, the Rockets would need to get back a dependable veteran, or have an in-house replacement ready to go.  Enter Harrell, if he can keep this up.  It’s still early of course, but what happens when Motiejunas returns, if Harrell continues at this rate?  Both Jones and Motiejunas are far too talented to bench.  It’s a story we’ll have to continue watching closely.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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