The Ime Udoka era in Houston started with a 20-point road loss to the Magic, and their season-opening road trip continues tonight in San Antonio to take on Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs. With both teams on the hunt for their first win of the season, I’ll break down why San Antonio is in line to get theirs tonight.
Judging a team after one game is pointless, but one thing that is clear is Houston will need more time to gel together and learn Ime Udoka’s system. In their 116-86 loss on opening night, the Rockets finished the game with a (-30.3)NET rating. On offense, the Rockets shot 41% from the field and 35% from three, with three players leading the team with 14 points. Two of those players happened to be off-season acquisitions, Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks.
Defense was the biggest concern with this team before the season, and those concerns certainly came to fruition on night one. After letting Orlando shoot 48% from the field and score 54 points in the paint, Houston’s defensive efficiency rating for the game ended up being (120.8). That performance was on par with their defensive outputs from last season, when they finished the regular season ranked 29th in defensive efficiency.
It won’t get much easier on that end of the floor tonight for the Rockets since they are set to play a Spurs team that flashed exciting offensive potential at multiple points throughout their opening-night loss to the Mavericks. With all the energy in the building surrounding Victor Wembanyama’s NBA debut, the Spurs stormed out to a 43-36 lead in the first quarter. That high level of play would dwindle throughout the game, resulting in a 126-119 loss and an offensive efficiency rating of (111.2).
Wembanyama would finish the game with 15 points and five rebounds, but Devin Vassell led the team in scoring with 23 points. Even with seven Spurs finishing in double figures, the duo of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic proved too much for the young Spurs' defense, causing San Antonio to finish with a (117.8) defensive rating.
In a battle between two of the younger rosters in the league, the Spurs enter this matchup favored by (-2), and I’ll be backing them for my play. San Antonio should be able to find a lot of success in the paint offensively after finishing with 46 points in the paint on opening night. Not only did the Rockets' defense struggle down low, but they also struggled to rebound, putting up a 36.7% rebounding percentage, which was the worst in the league.
San Antonio finished with a true shooting percentage of 60.5%, which is a shooting percentage I don’t think the Rockets can keep pace with at this point. Shooting was a big weak spot for Houston in 2022, as they finished with the league's worst effective field goal percentage. Until Udoka fully has players buy into his system, I think the Rockets will remain at the bottom of the league in shooting numbers.
Wembanyama will only get more comfortable attacking defenses as the season goes on. While it is only their second game, I think this is an ideal matchup for the phenom to flex his scoring ability a bit more than he did in game one. In a battle between these young rosters, I trust the Spurs more to get the job done tonight.
San Antonio Spurs (-2)