Ime Udoka has quickly turned his players into believers, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). Winning their fourth consecutive game Wednesday night — and their third straight by 18 points or more — the Rockets looked like the team Udoka envisioned when he agreed to become their head coach. Houston forced the Lakers out of their normal offense, won the rebounding battle by a 57-34 margin and seemed more determined to get to every loose ball.
“They’re buying into what we’re asking them to do,” Udoka said. “You see the effort there and the attention to detail behind it.”
Udoka was brought in to change to culture of the organization after three years of rebuilding. Houston added veteran leadership by signing free agents Dillon Brooks, Fred VanVleet and Jeff Green and has looked like a completely different team, especially on defense.
“Just us being connected,” Jae’Sean Tatesaid. “We literally move as a unit out there and our communication is something that I haven’t experienced in the last few years here and it’s fun. I think that’s the biggest thing — that we are really having fun and we are trusting each other to be in the right spots and cover up for each other.”
There’s more from Houston:
- Udoka was out of the NBA for an entire season after being suspended in Boston for an improper relationship with a female staff member, but those issues haven’t followed him to his new job, per Steve Bulpett of Heavy. “What happened in Boston is what happened in Boston,” a Rockets source told Bulpett. “It hasn’t come up with anyone.”
- VanVleet has been a strong on-court leader and a perfect conduit for Udoka’s emphasis on toughness, Bulpett adds. VanVleet grew frustrated trying to deliver the same messages in Toronto, but his new teammates in Houston have been far more receptive. “He’s exactly what that group of guys needed,” another of Bulpett’s sources said. “Young guys all want to establish themselves when they show up in the league, and the way (VanVleet) plays shows them they can still get theirs — and get it easier — if they work through each other. And once a young guy starts to taste a little success, that’s a great motivator in itself.”
- Before Wednesday’s game, LeBron James said he understands why the Rockets were willing to commit more than $80MM over four years to Brooks, his bitter playoff rival in Memphis, relays Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “I think in his case, he was worthy of the contract he got,” James said. “He’s put in the work since he came out of Oregon, and that’s what Houston found value in and he’s here.”