HOUSTON (AP)—Since acquiring Ron Artest in the offseason, the Houston Rockets have talked boldly about contending for the NBA championship. They have plenty of improvements to make before that happens.
Luis Scola had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Rockets, who were 28-for-76 (36.8 percent) from the field. They also went 5-for-16 from 3-point range and were outrebounded 49-44.
“It was ugly,” said Artest, who went 6-of-14 from the field. “But if it means we’re 1-0, then we’ll take it.”
Tracy McGrady, wearing a brace on his left shoulder and a wrap below his left knee, had 16 points and five assists, but went 7-for-18 from the field.
McGrady put a positive spin on the team’s mediocre performance. He says it’s too early for anyone to think that the Rockets are instantly contenders, just because Artest is now on the roster.
“I’m actually glad this game was pretty close, so we won’t get ahead of ourselves and think we’ve arrived,” he said. “I’ll take any win. But we’ve still got a long ways to go. We can see that we’re not there yet.”
Houston won this one with its defense, which ranked fourth in the league in points allowed last season. Memphis shot 38 percent from the field (31-for-81) and went 0-for-13 from 3-point range.
The Grizzlies admitted they were nervous at the start, and they failed to execute down the stretch, scoring only 14 points in the fourth quarter. But Gay walked off the court encouraged.
“We took some big strides,” he said. “We will learn from this. It was a little sloppy. We were scrappy and that is what we need to do to be successful.”
Artest had two steals and a breakaway layup in the first minute of the game and the Rockets raced to an 11-2 lead.
But Artest and McGrady both had two turnovers apiece in the first quarter to help the Grizzlies stay close. Gay scored 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the quarter and Houston led only 26-18.
Both teams missed 8 of their first 10 shots in the second quarter. Artest sank a 3-pointer near the 6-minute mark to put the Rockets up 34-26, but the Grizzlies closed the gap to 37-35 on Marc Gasol’s three-point play with 2:49 left in the half.
The Rockets led 43-37 at the break, but McGrady walked off the floor with his hands on his hips and a frustrated on his face look after going 4-for-10 from the field. Houston was only 6-for-21 from the field in the second quarter.
With the additions of Artest and sharpshooter Brent Barry, Houston has become a popular preseason pick to challenge the Lakers in the Western Conference. The Rockets led most of the game, but the Grizzlies made several mini-runs to keep it close to the end.
Point guard Rafer Alston, who went 2-for-8 from the field, didn’t put too much stock in the opener. He pointed to last season, when the Rockets started 15-17, then finished the regular season with a 55-27 record.
“I remember last year, it was a work in progress, and then we finally put it together,” Alston said. “We’ve incorporated another guy on our team who can really score. We have to remind ourselves that we have to get Yao and Tracy (involved). There are things we have to work at. It’s a work in progress.”
The Grizzlies closed the gap to one at the end of the third despite Yao’s circus shot. He flipped the ball over his head with his left hand as Gasol was grabbing his right arm. Gasol was called for a foul and Yao converted the three-point play, but the Grizzlies scored the last six points of the third quarter and trailed only 58-57.
With McGrady on the bench to start the final period, Memphis took a brief lead on Arthur’s breakaway dunk.
It was short-lived as Houston went back on top on Artest’s drive that made it 68-65.
The Rockets led 75-71 when Alston sank his first 3-pointer with 37.2 seconds left to finally put the game away. Houston has won 13 of its last 15 home openers.
Arthur’s 15 rebounds were three shy of the Grizzlies’ rookie record, set by Bryant Reeves in 1996. … As expected, Rockets F Shane Battier sat out with inflammation in his left foot. Adelman said he was still uncertain on a timetable for Battier’s return. “We’re going to have to wait and see,” Adelman said. “Only he can tell us.” … Gasol had 12 points and 12 rebounds for Memphis.