Southwest Notes: Rockets, Pelicans, Mavs, Brunson

Rockets head coach Ime Udoka said he was considering making changes to the starting lineup just before the All-Star break, but with the opening night starting five healthy again, he wants to give the group more time to show what it can do, at least for now, according to Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle (subscriber link).

Took a look at some things over the last 27 or so games,” Udoka said. “I think I cut 54 (games) in half and wanted to get a look when we are more whole. Looking at Dillon (Brooks) missing nine games, Fred (VanVleet) missing the last five, Jabari (Smith) missing four, and the ups and downs we had to start those games with different lineups. I felt we played a lot better, obviously, in the first 27 than the last 27. So I want to get back to that consistency, and we’ll take a look at our group going forward as is and see if we get back to the consistency and competitiveness that we had in the first 27.”

As Lerner writes, the Rockets are 18-17 with VanVleet, Jalen Green, Brooks, Smith and Alperen Sengun starting, but just 6-13 with any other lineups. They’ve also gone 1-6 without VanVleet this season. The veteran guard will be active for the back-to-back set Thursday and Friday after missing Houston’s previous five games with a left adductor strain.

I had a little bit of an extended break, so it’s really good for me, obviously, to rehab and get back healthy,” VanVleet said, per Lerner. “I had a good week to train and get some good work in. So feeling good and just excited to be back with the group.”

Rookie wing Cam Whitmore, who missed the last three games heading into the break with a sprained ankle, is expected to return this week, Lerner adds, while second-year forward Tari Eason was being evaluated by a doctor on Wednesday to determine a prognosis for his leg injury, which has kept him out for 32 games in 2023/24.

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • After competing in the play-in tournament the past two seasons, once advancing to the playoffs and once being immediately eliminated, the Pelicans hope to avoid the tournament altogether by making the playoffs outright in 2023/24, per Christian Clark of “It’s definitely one of our goals,” head coach Willie Green said. “To take another step. That step for us is to not be in the play-in. We can control our own destiny with piling up as many wins as we can.” After winning seven of eight leading into the break, New Orleans is currently 33-22, the No. 5 seed in the West. However, the Pelicans only lead the No. 8 seed Kings by one-and-a-half games.
  • Coach Jason Kidd may be preaching patience but the time for the Mavericks to win is now, Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News argues. Dallas is sitting in seventh place in the West but possesses the league’s most explosive backcourt, along with frontcourt upgrades made at the trade deadline.
  • Knicks guard Jalen Brunson confirmed that he wanted to stay with the Mavericks, but said they didn’t negotiate with him seriously enough during his walk year in 2021/22. Brunson would have signed for much less than he received from the Knicks if the Mavs hadn’t balked at a four-year extension early in the process. He made those comments during a podcast as relayed by Andrew Battifarano of the New York Post. “I really did want to stay in Dallas,” Brunson said on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes. “Before my fourth season in Dallas, my last season in Dallas, we try to extend our contract — whatever we can get. The most we can get is like four years and $55 million. And obviously we wanted to do that, I wanted to stay there and I thought I would be there for a long time. I liked my role there.”

Dana Gauruder contributed to this report.

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