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Remains too early in the regular season to draw finality from the latest NBA norms . The facades continue to walk among us. Uncertainty is the abundance by default.
To that end, the Houston Rockets' 116-112 victory over Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night revealed nothing about the James Harden-Russell Westbrook partnership, which calls for an expanded review. It felt routine if a little too close for comfort.
And hey, that soon, in the marriage of high-powered stars who have collected nothing close to consensus support, the Rockets will take it.
Westbrook's maiden match with his former team did not even move the emotional needle. That comes later, namely, when he returns to Oklahoma City for the first time on Jan. 9.
With the exception of a brief exchange with Darius Bazley, whom he has never played with, Westbrook has not been very unusual. He finished with a near triple double (21 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists), his usual turnover (five) and some dead-eyed looks after finishing over the rim:
Houston Rockets @ HoustonRockets
Beard to Brodie 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/PyulWYZWjC  He tried only one three-pointer that became out of character for him. So that's it.
Harden's night was similarly unchanged. He lived on the line (21-of-22) on his way to another 40-point game, the 78th of his career. It was neither effective (3 of 14 in three, four turnovers), nor fatal. He turned down the light on Westbrook's floodlights in times of crisis, but not in a way that seemed strange.
This dynamic between the two Houston stars almost feels like a model. Almost .
Again: We know better. It is too early to buy loose trends as a fact. There is a lot of story this season that still needs to be told. The Rockets have many questions that still need to be answered.
But the issue of Harden and Westbrook is not at the forefront of Houston's most pressing problems. This should not be confused with secondary focus. They will be under a microscope every time they speak in a lively manner on camera, and especially after each loss of the Rockets.
In both victory and defeat, the Harden-Westbrook experiment still does not resemble a referendum.
has reworked his identity. Harden is down in isolation (30.9 percent of his offensive possessions coming in on Monday) compared to last year (48.7 percent), but he's not constantly off the ball. Its use is more in line with 2017-18, which is probably closer to where the Rockets predicted it was spinning to a true second star.
Westbrook moves further than the ball but has sufficient control over the offense. Only slightly more of his buckets came with assists (28 percent) compared to 2018-19 (25.4 percent), and Houston did not clean the long two of his diet.
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Both Harden and Westbrook work fewer recruits, but this feels more like a functional mandate. The rockets are not leaning on the pickup and almost as much as last season.
The significant holes in this pairing are just as difficult to overcome. Westbrook is unlikely to shoot 36.4 percent from deep or hold his outside checkout volume forever, but Harden will also not hit 15.0 percent of his threes forever.
If anything, this transition goes more smoothly than not.
The Rockets neither defiantly win nor lose the minutes in which Harden and Westbrook play together. They are a net plus only with Harden and in the red when Westbrook works solo. These are predictable returns.
Although the shots he creates don't always drop, Westbrook looks as comfortable as possible as soon as possible. Houston's distance is a grace for his finishes in transition and transition, and the supporting actor effectively responds to the pull he has in these situations:
Those looking for those who suffer most from Houston should start here: with everyone else.
PJ Tucker is his usual reliable self on both ends, but he stands almost entirely alone. Clint Capella would have been expected if it weren't for his disappearing actions on the glass. Eric Gordon cuts 30.2 / 21.4 / 66.7.
The offensive highs of Daniel House Jr. never go on and he is hard to watch when his strikes don't go down like he did on Monday. But it is critically important to protect missiles and they must play it.
More clearly, 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 leg, according to ESPN's Tim McMahon . Ben McElmore is not the first to play. Austin Rivers shoots 2-of-10 from distance, and has that tendency to rock and bake in the dead. Gary Clark is not in the rotation. Thabo Sefolosha was scoreless in 34 minutes … and 35 years old.
Using a Tucker on 5 is something the rockets still seem interested in doing. Can they survive on the glass during these stretches? That remains to be seen. Their first two games suggest that the answer is yes. Monday offered a rebuttal. Protect the figures in these styles without infusing the wings with depth.
None of this is revealing. The Rockets were hunting for a sequence outside of their brand names before the season began.
Gordon's cold and cold start is the most shocking and yet not completely unprecedented. If this wheel becomes a status quo, then peace can become a panic.
And even considering that the worse-case scenario feels forced. Gordon shoots an incredible 38.5 percent of the wide open threes. Like Harden, chances are he'll be fine.
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Even if it is, it has immense value in Gordon's struggles, becoming the talking point . Ditto about Harden's downfall because it's obviously temporary.
There really is value throughout Houston's start to the season.
Striking a monstrous lead against the Milwaukee Bucks was a terrible form and nearly beating the New Orleans Pelicans without thunder and Zion Williamson is nothing to celebrate. The missiles in general looked unattractive. And they did that as you navigate the childhood stages of what should be the most flammable star duo in the league.
Houston is against it, they will do no prospects – for now.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics have been kindly provided by NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information and cap retention through Basketball Insiders, RealGM and Spotrac.
Dan Fawali covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter ( @danfavale ) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Andrew Bailey of B / R
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