Rockets down Kings, move to 2-0
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Houston Rockets weren’t about to quibble.
They acknowledge they are far from the polished product they expect to be, but two victories in two nights in two separate venues celebrating the host’s respective season openers?
They will take that any time.
“That’s a good win for us,” guard James Harden said after he dropped 27 points for the second straight contest, this one a 105-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at Golden 1 Center. “Obviously, we knew this was going to be a tough trip to start the year.”
That was putting it mildly.
The Rockets christened their season Tuesday by having to sit through the distraction of a pregame championship ring ceremony for the defending champion Warriors. Then Houston overcame a 17-point second-half deficit and survived a replay review at the buzzer in a 122-121 victory over Golden State.
Against the Kings, they overcame a raucous sellout crowd eager to see a new-look Sacramento team that features five rookies and 10 players with three years of experience or less.
The Kings trailed 75-74 entering the final period, but Harden canned three 3-pointers in a 17-7 spurt that created some distance, and Houston survived one final Sacramento rally down the stretch.
Houston opened the season with consecutive victories for the first time since 2014.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I like what I see,” Harden said. “Defensively, we’re a lot better, and guys are sharing the ball.”
Harden, playing 38 minutes a night after leading all scorers in the win over the Warriors, added nine assists for Houston. Eric Gordon, starting for injured guard Chris Paul, scored 25 points, and center Clint Capela added 22 points and 17 rebounds.
Paul, who sat out most of the fourth quarter in the win over the Warriors, missed the Kings game with a bruised left knee. Houston coach Mike D‘Antoni said the Rockets are hopeful Paul will play in the team’s home opener against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
“Kind of normal first back-to-backs of the season,” Rockets coach Mike D‘Antoni said. “It takes them a while to get their legs, and you don’t normally get (started) this early. We just had to grind it out.”
The season figures to be a long grind for the Kings, who entered the campaign with an 11-year playoff drought.
“We’re still trying to figure out a lot of the little things,” third-year center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “On defense, our effort is going to have to be good. That’s going to have to be a consistent for us.”
Cauley-Stein finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds to pace Sacramento, which opened a season without center DeMarcus Cousins for the first time since 2009.
Guard Buddy Hield, acquired in the February trade that sent Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, added 19 points for Sacramento. Veteran guard George Hill added 16 for the Kings, who got as close as 103-100 in the final 10 seconds.
Rookie De‘Aaron Fox, the Kings’ top pick and the fifth overall selection in the draft, produced 14 points on 7-for-15 shooting and added five assists to go with three turnovers.
“I think it went well,” he said. “We played hard. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We wanted to get the W, but there’s a lot of things we learned out there.”
NOTES: C Zach Randolph, set to enter his 16th season and one of only six players on the Sacramento roster with more than five years of experience, sat out the opener after having surgery on his mouth. Randolph left Memphis as a free agent after eight seasons with the Grizzlies. ... The Rockets, fully capable of winning 60 games in the opinion of coach Mike D‘Antoni, have posted 11 straight winning seasons, tying them with San Antonio for the longest such stretch in the NBA. ... Kings F Vince Carter began his 20th NBA season. Only Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki can match his experience. Carter, who scored six points, is 22nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 24,561 points. His two 3-pointers give him sole position of fifth with 2,052. ... Houston plays seven of its first seven contests on the road.