Rockets Notes: Sengun, Play-In, Landale, Brooks

Rockets center Alperen Sengun‘s breakout campaign was cut short after he suffered a right ankle injury in March, but he firmly established himself as Houston’s star, Kelly Iko of The Athletic writes. Not only is he Houston’s best player, but Iko asserts he may just be the most important as the Rockets continue to transition into a contender.

The talent level is real,” head coach Ime Udoka said. “It’s what you see on film and play against, and he’s taken a step as far as that. Competitiveness and going up against specific matchups right from day one. I think he’s improved defensively across the board, some of the things and challenges we’ve presented him with. He’s not even close to reaching his ceiling and has a ways to go, but he’s had a great year, and his future is bright.

Iko talked to 11 of Sengun’s teammates and all of them spoke highly of the All-Star caliber player.

Just being around him, he’s a good guy,” two-way guard Nate Hinton said. “He wants to win. He plays hard every night and tries to give it his all. That’s one thing I learned about him, going out there and taking the game seriously. Trying to dominate every night. He has a lot of game and can be one of the premier guys in this league if he takes care of his body. Just keep developing, lot of potential. Can also be a potential threat from 3 because he’s always open, they don’t guard him out there. If he hits a couple of those moving forward in his career, it will up his game some more.

We have more from the Rockets:

  • A month ago, the Rockets were out of the postseason picture and Udoka was questioning the team’s focus. At the end of February, Houston was 25-34, lost Sengun and Cam Whitmore due to injuries, and shut down injured forward Tari Eason. But now, as Iko explores in another story, Houston has won seven games in a row, as well as nine of its past 10. The Rockets are playing faster, shooting better and are playing aggressive defense. Now, at 34-35, they’re just 2.5 games out of the play-in tournament. The improved play of the likes of Jalen Green, Amen Thompson and Jock Landale is helping propel the team.
  • Landale’s improvement over the course of the season was on full display in Thursday’s win over the Bulls. As The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen observes (Twitter link), Landale finished that game with a season-high 14 points and season-high 10 rebounds, along with three blocks. He also matched his career high of five assists. Entering Thursday, Landale had been averaging 6.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in his past 10 games after averaging just 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds before that.
  • Dillon Brooks and Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan were ejected after being involved in a scrum on Thursday, ESPN details. DeRozan came off a screen and hip-checked Green, who was bringing the ball up the court, sending the Rockets guard down in pain. The initial foul by DeRozan was declared a flagrant 2 and Brooks was given a technical for responding and getting physical with DeRozan. After the game, Iko asked Udoka about the number of scuffles Houston’s been involved in this season (Twitter link). “Not a bad thing to have chippy games,” Udoka said. “I don’t mind that part of it at all. If a guy takes a hit, teammates gotta stand up for each other.
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