Harden, Westbrook Don’t Fit Seamlessly, but Rockets Don’t Need Them to | Bleacher Report

Bill Baptist / Getty Images

It is still too early in the regular season to draw the conclusion of the NBAnormal news from. The facades continue to walk among us. Ambiguity is the default abundance. Demand and safety claims always exceed supply.

To this end, Houston Rockets116-112 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night did not reveal anything about the James HardenRussell Westbrook partnership that requires a thorough review. It was a bit routine, but a bit too tight for comfort.

And hey, soon, the Rockets will engage in a marriage of stars very used that did not get anything close to the consensus.

Westbrook's first game with his former team did not even move the emotional needle. It will come later, when he returns to Oklahoma City for the first time on January 9th.

Aside from a brief exchange with Darius Bazley, with whom he has never played, Westbrook has done little out of the ordinary. He finished with a near-triple-double (21 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists), his usual series of turnovers (five) and a few dead looks after finishing over the rim:

He just tried a three-pointer, which became out of character for him. So, there is that.

The night of Harden was likewise unchanged. He lived on the line (21 of 22) en route to another 40-point game, the 78th of his career. It was neither effective (3 out of 14 in three, four turnarounds) nor detrimental. He put Westbrook back in the foreground, but not in a way that seemed strange.

This dynamic between the two Houston stars looks almost like a pattern. Almost.

Once again, we know better. It is far too early to buy bulk trends. This season still has a lot of story to tell. The Rockets have a lot of questions they still have to answer.

But the problems of Harden and Westbrook are not at the center of Houston's most pressing concerns. This should not be confused with a secondary objective. They will be under the microscope whenever they talk animatedly to the camera, and most certainly after each defeat of the Rockets.

In both wins and losses, the Harden-Westbrook experience has not yet resembled a referendum.

Neither has his identity reviewed. Harden is less isolated (30.9% his offensive goods entering on Monday) compared to last year (48.7%), but it is not constantly moved from the ball. Its use is no longer online with 2017-18, which is probably closer to where the Rockets imagined it hovering next to a real second star.

Westbrook is moving away from the ball more and more, but has wide control over the offensive. Only a few more of his buckets made are coming out of the aids (28%) compared to 2018-19 (25.4%) and Houston did not purge the two long of his fire regime.

Harden and Westbrook are not Houston's main concern at the moment - and that's a win.

Harden and Westbrook are not Houston's main concern at the moment – and that's a win.Tim Warner / Getty Images

Harden and Westbrook use less pick-and-roll, but this is more like a functional mandate. The Rockets do not rely on the pick-and-roll almost as much as they were last season.

It is also difficult to find significant holes in this association. Westbrook will probably not shoot 36.4% depth or control its outside volume forever, but Harden will not hit forever 15.0% of his triples.

If anything, this transition is more transparent than it is.

Rockets are not demonstrative win or lose the minutes Harden and Westbrook play together. They are a net plus with Harden alone and in the red when Westbrook short solo. These are predictable returns.

Although the shots he prepares do not always fall, Westbrook seems about as comfortable as reasonably possible so early. The spacing of Houston is a boon for its finishing on the controls and in transition, and the support cast reacts effectively to the pull that it has in these situations:

Those looking for the most Houston touch should start here: with everyone else.

PJ Tucker is his usual usual at both ends, but remains almost alone. Clint Capela would be as expected without his disappearing acts on the glass. Eric Gordon in section 30.2 / 21.4 / 66.7.

Danuel House Junior's offensive summits never seem to last, and it's hard to watch when his shots are not down, as was the case on Monday. But it's crucial for the Rockets defense, and they have to play against him.

Specifically, they do not have many viable alternatives.

Gerald Green is still not expected to return this season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot, according to ESPN Tim MacMahon. Ben McLemore is not eminently playable. Austin Rivers shoots 2 times out of 10 from a distance and has this tendency to tremble in nothingness. Gary Clark is not in the rotation. Thabo Sefolosha has not scored for 34 minutes … and 35 years.

The use of Tucker at 5 is something that the Rockets always seem interested in doing. Can they survive on the glass during these stretches? It remains to be seen. Their first two games suggest that the answer is yes. Monday offered a rebuttal. The defense thinks to be able to fight during these relays without infusion of depth on the wings.

None of this is revealing. Before the season started, the Rockets were looking for consistency, apart from their respective names.

Gordon's frosty start is very shocking, but not entirely unprecedented. If this rut ​​becomes the status quo, then peace can escalate into panic.

And even if we consider that the worst scenario is forced. Gordon takes a step-great, not-damn 38.5% on his three big open ones. Like Harden, the chances are good.

That Gordon is the biggest polling point in Houston so far is encouraging.

That Gordon is the biggest polling point in Houston so far is encouraging.Bill Baptist / Getty Images

Even if it is not, Gordon's struggles become invaluable the subject of discussion. Ditto for Harden's doldrums, because it's so obviously temporary.

Really, the beginning of the Houston season is of value.

Blow a monster in the head against the Milwaukee Bucks was the terrible form, and barely beat thunder and Zion Williamson-less Pelicans of New Orleans There is nothing to celebrate. The Rockets, by and large, look unspectacular. And they did it while navigating in the early stages of what is supposed to be the league's most fueling duo.

With all that Houston has to do, it's not spectacular, but for the moment.

Unless otherwise stated, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball reference or Glass cleaning. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Initiates, RealGM and Spotrac.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to her Hardwood shots podcast, co-hosted by Andrew Bailey of B / R

Former Chicago Tribune reporter and NBC Sports Chicago actor K.C. Johnson joins "The Full 48 with Howard Beck" to discuss the Chicago Bulls final game, Coby White, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Michael Jordan.

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