HOUSTON -- Yes, it's only one game.
Just one out of 82, but the Houston Rockets arrived at the Toyota Center with the expectations of a title-contending team.
"They beat the hell out of us," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "I don't know about reacting but we didn't react very well. They beat the hell out of us from the start of the game."
Harden wasn't very good as he went 6-of-21 from the floor. Normally he gets those contact fouls, which allowed him to lead the league in free throw attempts last season. Several times on Wednesday the three-man crew wasn't giving him the calls.
At times, Harden tried to fit in, allowing others to take control of the ball while he waited his turn. When he did get the ball, he challenged the defense with drives and pump fakes, but Denver's defense withstood his efforts. Last season, defenders would jump into the air and Harden would lean into them, drawing a contact foul. But Denver stood its ground on the pump fakes. When Harden drove the ball, there was some contact, especially on one first half play when Kenneth Faried bumped into him, sending him to the floor.
No call, though.
"It's going to happen in the entire season, it's not my concern," he said. "I can do better offensively and defensively."
Added guard Gary Harris, who guarded Harden most of the night: "We knew they were going to play a lot of pick-and-rolls and we knew I would be trailing him on his back and the big [man] had to play center field and stay between him and the basket. We did a good job of executing our game plan."
Lawson was acquired to push the pace and get open shots for his teammates. The pace was terrible and disjointed. The open looks the Rockets received turned into bricks. As a team, the Rockets shot 34.5 percent from the floor and McHale noted there were too many one-pass, two-pass shots. They didn't force the defense to chase their outside shooters by moving the ball.
The Rockets want to shoot 40 3-pointers a game, but converted only 8 of 35.
"It's a process," Lawson said. "The pace is a little bit different trying to get everybody shots and touches. It's a little bit of a process but we'll get back to it."
Houston didn't have Dwight Howard (one-game suspension) at center and were forced to play Clint Capela, who has more playoff appearances (17) than regular-season games (13). Capela, 21, was beaten up at times by Joffrey Lauvergne, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur.
Capela did score nine points, grabbed seven boards and tied a career-high with three blocks. His inability to help on the weakside -- and he wasn't alone at this -- hurt the big men.
"Communication tonight was not that good," he said.
Without Howard, McHale went with smaller lineups and used rookie Montrezl Harrell at power forward/center. Harrell was hustling and scored eight points yet snagged just three rebounds. He's a second-round pick that displayed some offensive skills and has a nice future ahead of him.
Against taller veteran Nuggets, he struggled, which is expected.
"I think the bigs could have done more," Capela said. "If anything, I think game after game we're going to get better. We're going to get Dwight back, so it's going to be better."
The Rockets haven't had the smoothest of training camps. A laundry list of players: Howard, Harden, Lawson, Capela and Terrence Jones, missed time for various injuries. Getting everybody together for a full practice can be counted on one hand.
A lack of continuity has hurt this team, and it showed on Wednesday.
There's no need to panic, despite fellow title contenders Golden State getting its rings and a big win, Oklahoma City -- with its two stars back -- getting a solid win over San Antonio, and Chicago moving to 2-0.
"We did not play up to a level that's even remotely what we have to do if we want to be the team we want to be," McHale said. "Just bad turnovers, bad passes. Not a lot of stuff that I can really look to that was real positive."
Then again, it is just the first game.
There is time.
"It's not going to happen overnight and we're not forcing it too," Harden said. "We're going to keep working and grinding away and just be better."