James Harden has a real simple message for the Rockets fans while putting the other 21 NBA teams in the bubble in Orlando on notice as their season restart begins in earnest Friday night.
The Rockets take on the Dallas Mavericks in Orlando in their first regular season game since the season was abruptly stopped in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly Harden and the Rockets have an NBA title on their minds in this abbreviated season.
“We’re bringing it back to H-Town,” Harden said before Thursday night’s practice in the Orlando bubble. “We’ve come up short the last few years but this is an opportunity for us to fight for it and get after it again. We’ve got some grinding to do and some work to do but the goal is to bring it back H-Town.”
It’s been four months of waiting and not knowing whether or not the NBA would finish the 2019-2020 season it started. But it’s finally here. A slate of games signaled the official restart of the NBA season on Thursday.
For the Rockets it starts Friday night against their in-state rivals on a neutral floor with no fans in the building at Disney World in Orlando. All 22 NBA teams in Orlando will play eight regular season games for seeding purposes before the playoffs tipoff in August.
Harden simply describes his emotions as those of excitement.
“Not only because the game of basketball is coming back but just the opportunity to give people hope and excitement and job and something to look forward to,” he said. “The NBA brings a lot of excitement and it brings a lot of people together.
“It’s an opportunity for us to go out there and do what we do at a high level and put on a good show.”
Forward Robert Covington agrees that it’s exciting, despite so much of the backdrop being much different than any of the players and coaches have seen before. The players are isolated from their family and friends and all of the outside world.
“After being off for four months, it’s a different time, it’s a different dynamic of everything so sitting back and not doing what you love to do and it being stopped on a dime like that, it’s very life changing,” Covington said. “But it feels good to be back.
“We’d be on break right about now but it’s good to get back out there and continue this quest of winning the championship.”
The restart, which included three weeks of training camp-style practices and scrimmages has given the Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni more time to perfect their small ball lineup that they rolled out about halfway through the season. With two dominant guards like Russell Westbrook and Harden, the Rockets could have the type of fast-paced team that could go far come playoffs.
“It’s exciting knowing this is the start of the season,” said D’Antoni, whose team was 40-24 prior to the stoppage. “This is probably a start of a season that has ever been like this so it’s exciting and I think players are really are intent on playing and getting into it.
“I think all of the feelings are the same. It will be the unknown but with great anticipation.”
In a bit of irony, the two most efficient offensive teams in the NBA will tipoff first in the Mavericks and Rockets. The Mavericks, who are putting up an insane 116.8 points per 100 possessions, are the most efficient team in the league this season while the Rockets are second with 113.8 points per game.
“First of all it ticks me off that we are not the first,” D’Antoni said. “Kudos to Rick Carlisle and his staff and players, they’ve done a good job and it is a great offense with great players. We are striving to be better than that.
“It’s going to come down to we are going to have to do a good job of stopping them and then vice versa. They are a good team. They are a dangerous team. We will see what happens (Friday night).”