The Houston Rockets held their first official practice of the season restart on Saturday without their All-Star backcourt.
Guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook have yet to join their teammates and the other 21 NBA teams at Walt Disney World in Orlando for the restart of the season, but coach Mike D’Antoni expects them to arrive soon. The Rockets and the other teams arrived in Orlando on Thursday but neither Harden nor Westbrook joined the team to begin the two days of quarantining prior to Saturday’s first practice.
While there is speculation that Westbrook and Harden may have tested positive for COVID-19, the team has not given an explanation for why the two have not joined the team.
D’Antoni, however, told reporters after Saturday’s practice that he doesn’t see the absence of his two star players as a setback.
“I don’t think it will be too many days so it will work itself out,” D’Antoni said via Zoom. “Some things you can’t control. We will get good work in and these old veterans they obviously will miss a couple of days and it’s not ideal but it’s going to be good and we will be ready to go. It won’t set us back.”
Players who did not join their respective teams on the flights over on Thursday will have to test negative for the COVID-19 virus three times before they can join their team, according to NBA guidelines for the restart in “the bubble.”
Newcomer Luc Mbah a Moute and player development coach John Lucas also did not fly with the team Thursday but when D’Antoni was asked specifically on Saturday which players were not there, he only mentioned Harden and Westbrook. Rockets veteran forward Thabo Sefolosha is the only Rocket to opt out the season restart.
As for the first practice of the restart, D’Antoni and the players made available said it went smooth.
“It was exactly how we always practice,” said forward P.J. Tucker. “We came in and did all of the things we normally do, watched a little film, watched the things we did good and bad and stuff we need to work on and where we need to get better.”
The players went through some offensive and defensive principle work and drills then watched film. Practices will ramp up in the coming days as the coaches have a better feel for the conditioning and shape the players are in after the three-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s great to be back with them and the enthusiasm is what’s great,” D’Antoni said. “These are good guys and they work hard. We just went over the basics today and just tried to touch everything we’ve reached before and just drilled it.
“We will get into 5-on-5 as we go forward but right now we are assessing where they are athletically or where they are shape wise and it’s pretty good. We will progress but there is no trading being with these guys and fighting for the same thing. So it was good day.”
The 22-particpating NBA teams will begin with an eight-game regular season at the end of this month and the playoffs will start.