HOUSTON — Mike D’Antoni knows what type of team the Houston Rockets are: A team with 24 victories heading into the New Year, a group with victories against two of the elite teams in the Western Conference — Golden State and San Antonio.
The Rockets also have a win at Oklahoma City, but a loss at Memphis. The D’Antoni hire has been positive by any measure, and the players have responded to the veteran coach in all sorts of ways.
So to say the Rockets are an elite team with a possible MVP (James Harden), an All-NBA first-team defense player (Patrick Beverley) and a Sixth Man of the Year favorite (Eric Gordon) would be accurate.
But Tuesday night, something else was confirmed. The togetherness the Rockets’ players talked about was shown on behalf of Trevor Ariza.
“Yes we did, last game was our first test and I think we did well with that,” Harden said. “It helped us play better and nobody got too crazy, we had each other’s backs, and that’s all that matters. We’ve been tested from games getting chippy or we’re not making 3s or we get off to slow starts, we got to figure it out. We get tested in different ways, so far we’ve done a really good job of coming out of it. It’s good for us, especially early on in the season.”
There was a nasty incident on the court when according to a source, the Mavericks’ Salah Mejri made a derogatory comment about Ariza’s family. It’s something Mejri denied. Ariza went to the Mavericks locker room to confront Mejri after the game. Ariza was there with numerous teammates, whom D’Antoni said were there to calm Ariza down.
The league doesn’t take kindly to players hanging outside locker rooms to confront each other, and a fine most likely will occur. The Rockets’ players were willing to accept any potential fine to support Ariza.
“They care for each other and you saw that we just try to play as hard as we can,” D’Antoni said. “Sometimes it gets chippy, that’s part of the game, and other teams trying to get out of their mess, it happens. Nothing happened, which was great, and we got the win, which is even better.”
It was a game with nasty hits, as Ryan Anderson hit the floor after a shot to the head and Harden went down when his face crashed into the shoulder of another player. It wasn’t pretty.
Beverley is irked by some of the coverage off Tuesday night’s game, which is his right. He declined to answer questions from ESPN about why he yelled at Rick Carlisle after the game. Things got out of hand and the three officials, along with the Mavericks and Rockets, all share blame for some of the issues.
Harden talked about how professional his team was, and the disrespect he and his teammates received from the Mavericks.
However, Beverley, much like Harden, is pleased with how things are going this season for the Rockets. They picked each other up when things got bumpy, and now come the Clippers on Friday night. The meetings between these teams have been chippy in the past, too.
“I hate to talk about last year,” Beverley said. “I don’t know if we stuck together like that, this is a totally different army, guys are totally locked in off the court and on the court. We want to see everyone to be successful and everyone to play well. If a person is not playing well, we pick each other up. It’s just a different culture this year, and we want to continue to stay with that. With that type of culture, when you’re in that type of dogfight in the playoffs you might need that, somebody that’s trusting early that can pick you up.”