|Rockets hope to continue upswing vs. Kings|
HOUSTON -- It was only a couple weeks ago that the Houston Rockets were seemingly left for dead, with their offseason roster makeover blamed for a shockingly miserable start to the season.
On Thursday at Toyota Center, the Rockets (7-7) throttled the defending champion Golden State Warriors to record their sixth victory in eight games.
There are no landmark triumphs in mid-November, but for a team that opened the season with just one win over the first six contests, completing the climb back to .500 marked a noteworthy accomplishment, even if Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni opted for derisive humor when asked if a goal had been achieved.
"That was our big goal," D'Antoni said with a chuckle.
The Rockets, of course, have bigger fish to fry after posting the best record in the league last season and pushing the Warriors to Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals.
The early recovery this season enables Houston to focus on a steady climb up the conference standings, with the Sacramento Kings (8-7) serving as the next challenge at Toyota Center on Saturday.
Where the Rockets sit represents modest progress. Still, things are better than they were.
"I told them, 'Congratulations guys, we're .500.' That's really doing it," D'Antoni said tongue in cheek. "We've just got to make sure that we know where we are. OK, this is a good step. It's early but we do have the potential to be really good in different areas of the game and we've got to keep building on it and understand that Saturday comes a nice, young team that's been playing really well.
"We cannot think that we're OK. We're not OK until we get a 10-game lead on the second-place team. We're not OK; we've got to keep fighting."
The Kings, conversely, have regressed of late, losing for the fourth time in six games on Friday in Memphis, 112-104 to the Grizzlies. Sacramento fashioned a surprising 6-3 start to the season but has suffered two double-digit defeats since, losing by an average margin of 16.8 points.
Yet, the Kings have made an impression throughout the league. Having last qualified for the playoffs in the 2005-06 season, Sacramento appears to have compiled the right collection of ascendant players following several turns in the NBA draft lottery.
Entering their brief two-game road trip, the Kings featured six players averaging double digits in scoring paced by their starting backcourt of De'Aaron Fox (a Houston native) and Buddy Hield.
Fox posted his fourth points-assists double-double of the season on Friday with 23 points and 10 assists while Hield chipped in 16 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic, one of those double-digit scorers, matched his season average with 12 points. With eight players averaging at least 21 minutes per game, the Kings have ably exploited their depth, ranking second in pace at 106.3 possessions per 48 minutes.
"The guys are enjoying playing this way," Kings coach Dave Joerger said on a nationally broadcast radio show this week. "We have an identity and we believe that we can win playing this way."