We’re a month into the season, and there have been plenty of storylines. However, one is looking to be more interesting than the others.
The recent clashes between the young Houston Rockets and the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, have ignited a tantalizing question: Do the upstart Rockets possess the secret formula to dismantle the mighty Nuggets?
The Rockets, a team replete with youthful energy and burgeoning talent, have soared to attention by notching two impressive victories over the Denver Nuggets within a mere span of 12 days. These wins, while standalone in nature, raise intriguing speculations about the potential prowess and resilience of their previously overlooked squad.
To be fair, Houston came into the season with a lot of iffyness. Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun, both third-year players, were the two main guys, alongside Jabari Smith Jr., the second overall pick from 2022 who’s still developing. Free agency brought them champion floor general Fred VanVleet and All-Defensive team member Dillon Brooks, but it was mostly panned as they collectively cost $214.5 million.
The defensive-minded Ime Udoka, who brought the Boston Celtics to the finals in his first and only season with the franchise, was the lone encouraging addition.
But yeah, as we know now, many got it wrong. The Rockets are here, with Sengun slowly rising as its surprise best player, averaging 20.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game on 56.7% shooting through 14 contests.
A look at the two wins
The first encounter was last November 13th, in what was a compelling testament to the Rockets’ drive. In a hard-fought battle that unfolded over four quarters, Houston showcased its grit, tenacity, and composure down the stretch. Houston outlasted the supposedly stout Nuggets, 107-104, and not only reflected their ability to match the reigning champions’ intensity but also hinted at their capacity to execute under pressure.
However, the second showdown on Saturday, November 25th, is what generated some rumblings. Houston’s emphatic 105-86 victory over the Nuggets wasn’t just a win; it was a commanding display of dominance. What stood out even more was the Rockets’ defensive schemes, which held the usually prolific Denver offense to a mere 34% shooting (Aaron Gordon was 0-of-12). This defensive tenacity, combined with their offensive capabilities, paints a picture of a team finding its stride at a rapid pace.
The Denver Nuggets, boasting seasoned veterans and the championship pedigree, have found themselves confounded by the youthful exuberance and hunger exhibited by the Rockets. While it’s premature to draw definitive conclusions from these matchups alone, the back-to-back victories undoubtedly warrant consideration.
It can be definitely argued that Jamal Murray’s absence–sidelined since November 6th due to a hamstring injury–has played a part, but the Rockets’ approach around Nikola Jokic is also worth considering. They won despite the Serbian going on his usual berserk mode and obliterating the statsheet:
- November 12th: 36 points, 21 rebounds, 11 assists
- November 25th: 38 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists
As the season progresses, these matchups will continue to serve as a litmus test for both teams. For the Rockets, it’s an opportunity to solidify their status as a legitimate contender, while the Nuggets seek to recalibrate and overcome this unexpected hurdle posed by a younger, hungry adversary.
Expect some highs and lows for coach Udoka and his men moving forward, but it’s exciting for us fans to see them rise up against the best of the best. They have firmly planted themselves as a team to watch, challenging the established hierarchy of the league and leaving the basketball world abuzz with anticipation.
They face again on Thursday, November 30th, this time in Denver. Mark those calendars.