NBA Basketball

Rockets flying high into Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Now that they have a game that counts under them, the Houston Rockets' dynamic new guard duo can get on with the work of jelling.

Coach Mike D'Antoni is harboring grand visions of many winning nights for guards James Harden and Chris Paul in their debut campaign in Houston. Their regular-season opener together, a 122-121 road stunner over the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, showed the coach may be onto something.

The Rockets continue their season-opening road trip Wednesday at Sacramento, will the Kings will be playing their season opener.

D'Antonio told the Houston Chronicle before the opener, "We won 55 last year. We'd like to win 60 or more. How can we do it? We know our defense has to get better. We're really on that. We know we have to move (offensively) more. We're working on that."

The teaming of Paul, a nine-time All-Star who came to the Rockets in a blockbuster offseason trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Harden, the five-time All-Star who averaged 29.1 points per game last season, has the Rockets clearly eyeballing the Warriors for supremacy atop the Western Conference.

Even in the Wednesday win, though, Houston showed it is far from a finished product. Harden thrived, scoring 27 points and handing out 10 assists. But Paul sat out much of the fourth quarter -- during which Houston outscored the Warriors 34-20 -- and finished with only four points to go with 11 assists in 33 minutes.

"He had a little knee problem, so that's what that was," Harden told TNT after the game. "We're so deep that we have 10 or 12 guys that can come in and be a game-changer."

The Kings can only imagine such days ahead.

Sacramento opens its second season at the Golden One Center on Wednesday against the Rockets in what figures to be the first of several painful nights on the route to respectability, a direction the team says it is committed to following.

The Kings have missed the playoffs for 11 straight seasons, a stretch that is not expected to end. They enter the season as the consensus pick to finish 15th among 15 Western Conference teams.

Still, the path Sacramento is following is not lined with the same old markers. The opener will mark the first for the Kings without center DeMarcus Cousins since the 2009-10 season, when the playoff drought stood at only four seasons. Cousins was dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans in February.

The Kings will embark with one of the NBA's youngest teams, too. Sacramento's roster includes five rookies, including top pick De'Aaron Fox, a guard out of Kentucky, and 10 players have three years or less of NBA experience.

"We're young, but we have a few veterans," Fox told NBS Sports Bay Area. "At the end of the day, we're gonna run a lot. We're extremely young team, fast, and want to get up court. But one thing, we're gonna have to play defense."

The Kings figure to be fully healthy for the opener with veteran guard George Hill expected to be back after missing the preseason finale with a tweaked groin. Rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic, who sprained his right ankle in Sacramento's exhibition finale, also hopes to return.

Updated October 18, 2017

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