AP NEWS

rockets report Kings a concern, but their pace is not

March 30, 2019

The Rockets will go from consecutive games against contenders, Milwaukee and Denver, to home-and-home games against the lottery-bound Sacramento Kings.The Kings, however, bring young, quick-strike talent that the Rockets insisted would get their attention.“They were a playoff team up to a couple weeks ago,” guard Chris Paul said. “The fact we play them (Saturday) and again three days later, we’ve got to set the tone.”The Kings lead the NBA in fast-break scoring and play at the second-fastest pace, with the Rockets working to improve their pace in recent games. But the Rockets said they would not concern themselves with trying to slow down the Kings.“We play the way we play,” Paul said. “As long as we play the way we’re capable of playing, we should be able to win just about every night. That’s a luxury to have. … When we play up-tempo and push the pace and get in the first quadrant (of the shot clock) we’re at our best.”The Rockets’ pace in Thursday’s rout of Denver came from their strong defensive play.“We have to still play fast, but smart,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But our whole key is the energy we bring on the defensive end. We are second since the All-Star break defensively. It’s getting better.“That fuels everything. It fuels our offense.”Experimentationon hold for nowMike D’Antoni had hoped to use the final weeks to see what combinations with his 11 players would work best in a nine-man rotation. He has not had that chance.With Gerald Green and Kenneth Faried going out with injuries and both likely out for games against the Kings, the Rockets have relied on Austin Rivers and Iman Shumpert off the bench, usually playing with Nene, Danuel House Jr. and Chris Paul. The bench play, however, has been strong enough to allow D’Antoni to feel more comfortable with whatever he chooses.“That’s usually what happens,” the Rockets coach said of the injuries changing his plans. “You go off these plans. It lasts about a game or two. It usually takes care of itself. (Thursday) night Austin was incredible. Shump is starting to defend and play well. We have options, which is great.”Green and Faried are expected back in the middle of next week. After playing in Sacramento on Tuesday, the Rockets face the Clippers the next night in Los Angeles.The defensive-oriented combination with Rivers and Shumpert, however, has been effective.“If they can do that or come close to that, the one thing you can control is defensive energy,” D’Antoni said. “If you have that, we find a way to score.”Jonathan FeigenThe Rockets will go from consecutive games against contenders, the Bucks and Nuggets, to home-and-home games against the lottery-bound Kings.The Kings, however, bring young, quick-strike talent that the Rockets insisted would get their attention.“They were a playoff team up to a couple weeks ago,” Rockets guard Chris Paul said. “They play hard. They’re well coached. The fact we play them (Saturday) and again three days later, we’ve got to set the tone.”The Kings lead the NBA in fast-break scoring and play at the second-fastest pace, with the Rockets working to improve their own pace in recent games, and especially in Thursday’s win against the Nuggets. But the Rockets said they would not concern themselves with allowing a game to be played at the Kings’ pace or with trying to slow them down.“We’re one of the few teams, we play the way we play,” Paul said. “We get to come in and as long as we play the way we’re capable of playing, we should be able to win just about every night. That’s a luxury to have.“That’s the way we should play every night. That’s one of the things coaches always harp on. When we play up-tempo and push the pace and get in the first quadrant (of the shot clock) we’re at our best.”The Rockets’ pace on Thursday came from their strong defensive play, with the emphasis on repeating that regardless of their opponent, particularly with just six regular-season games remaining.“We have to still play fast, but smart,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But our whole key is the energy we bring on the defensive end. We are second since the All-Star break defensively. It’s getting better. That fuels everything. It fuels our offense. It doesn’t make you a one-dimensional team. Hopefully, we can still build on our defense, keep getting it better and get ready for the playoffs.“They are a very talented young team. They came close to making the playoffs. For a while, they were definitely in it. Obviously, we have a little bit more experience and firepower right now, but if we don’t come out and play hard, they can hurt us and we can’t afford that right now.”With that in mind, Rockets center Clint Capela said the Rockets’ goals in the final two weeks of the season should keep them looking past a lottery team.“We have to keep the same mindset because we know our team, where we want to go, what is going to be most important … to keep the same the mindset to keep growing on our defense, keeping working offensively on our chemistry,” Capela said. “It’s a challenge every night. Some games you play teams that are really good so you really want to play. Other times, it’s not always the case so I think the biggest challenge is to stay focused on us.”Rockets rotationexperiments on holdRockets coach Mike D’Antoni had hoped to use the final weeks of the season to see what combinations with his 11 players would work best in a nine-man rotation. He has not had that chance.With Gerald Green and Kenneth Faried going out with injuries and both likely out for games against the Kings on Saturday and Tuesday, the Rockets have relied on Austin Rivers and Iman Shumpert off the bench, usually with Nene, Danuel House Jr. and Chris Paul. The bench play, however, has been strong enough to if not make the decisions for him to allow D’Antoni to feel more comfortable with whatever he chooses.“That’s usually what happens,” he said of the injuries changing his plans for the final weeks of the season. “You go off these plans. It lasts about a game or two. It usually takes care of itself. (Thursday) night Austin was incredible. Shump is starting to defend and play well. We have options which is great. We’ll get Gerald and Kenneth back and see what we’ve got.”Green, who has missed three games with a strained adductor muscle, and Faried, who has missed the past two with a sore right knee, are both expected back in the middle of next week. After playing in Sacramento on Tuesday, the Rockets face the Clippers the next night in Los Angeles.The defensive-oriented combination with Rivers and Shumpert, however, has been effective.“If they can do that or come close to that, the one thing you can control is defensive energy,” D’Antoni said. “If you have that, we find a way to score.”Women’s Foundationsets book drive recordFor his first three years abroad, his books were Mike D’Antoni’s only companions. They have remained good friends. As he stood surrounded by the 16,833 books collected by the Rockets Women’s Foundation and Reliant for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and distributed to local charities on Friday, he recalled the power those books had to change his world.“When I left the NBA and went to Europe, didn’t know the language and was by myself more or less, I didn’t speak Italian so I started reading,” D’Antoni said. “I read a lot when I was young, but you lose it. There’s so many distractions going on and I was reading my first three years in Italy at least one book a day from every kind of author you could think of. That just opened my world.“It was something I kind of forgot. I got too busy in college and with my teams. It’s invaluable to read. Kids, I’m sure if they get exposed to it early will continue it. That’s why this is so important that people like Reliant and Barbara Bush Foundation and the wives help with his project. It opens kids’ minds up to new ideas and not just what they see on TV every day. We as a society have to keep evolving and hopefully this will help a little bit.”The book drive, culminating with Thursday’s game, surpassed the goal to collect 15,000 books, with Houston-based non-profits receiving the books on Friday.“There’s so many children, 61 percent of children in low-income homes, do not own books,” Julie Baker Finck, the president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, said. “That’s a tragedy. Everyone should have books in their home and be empowered to learn how to read. We’re so thrilled to have more than 30 organizations from the community able to get books and put them in hands of children and families.”Jonathan Feigen