NBA: James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik lead new-look Rockets against Jazz
These are not the Hakeem Olajuwon-Charles Barkley Houston Rockets, whose fierce battles with the Jazz in the 1990s shaped the history of both franchises.
These are not the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady Rockets, who lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, launching Utah's best postseason runs since the Stockton-Malone Era.
These aren't even the Kevin Martin-Kyle Lowry Rockets, who struggled down the stretch of last year's lockout-shortened season and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Houston makes its first visit of the season to EnergySolutions Arena on Monday night and those attending should consider buying a program.
Like an aging Hollywood actor, the Rockets' face has been lifted and redone.
You might not recognize them.
After losing seven of its final nine last spring and ending up two games behind the eighth-seeded Jazz in the Western Conference, Houston blew up the roster.
Owner Les Alexander authorized three-year, $25 million offer sheets for restricted free agents Jeremy Lin of New York and Omer Asik of Chicago.
Neither the Knicks nor the Bulls matched.
The Rockets' biggest blockbuster, however, came four days before the start of the regular season.
With defending conference champion Oklahoma City unable to sign reigning Sixth Man Award-winner James Harden to a long-term contract, Houston acquired him as part of a trade that included five other players and three future draft picks.
The Rockets received Harden, center Cole Aldrich and forward Lazar Hayward from Oklahoma City.
The Thunder received Martin, No. 12 draft pick Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick from Houston.
The Rockets quickly signed Harden to a five-year, $80 million contract extension, meaning Alexander's offseason bill for three NBA veterans reached $130 million.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin called the acquisition of Harden "a huge boost" for the Rockets "because of the way he plays. The ball's in his hands a lot."
Same with Lin, the young point guard whose unexpectedly sensational run last season with the Knicks created an outbreak of "Linsanity" around the basketball-playing world.
"Those guys are the key for them," Corbin said. "As they go, the team goes. ... If they're going to push the pace, those two guys [will have] the ball in their hands. We've got to make sure we're up on them taking that away at all times. We can't allow them to go where they want to go."
Heading into a Sunday night game against the Lakers in Los Angeles, Harden, Lin and Asik have played well for the Rockets.
Harden averages 26.7 points, second in the league behind Kobe Bryant.
Lin averages 10.9 points and 6.7 assists, although he's shooting only 35.5 percent from the field.
Asik averages 11.1 points and 13.2 rebounds, second in the NBA behind Memphis' Zach Randolph.
The Tribune's Bill Oram contributed to this story.
Rockets at Jazz
P Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Rockets at Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Houston 4-5; Utah 5-6
Season series • First meeting
Last game • Jazz, 103-91 (April 11)
About the Jazz • They have played an NBA-high eight road games. ... They are 3-0 at home, including wins over Dallas (113-94), Phoenix (94-81) and the L.A. Lakers (95-86). ... F Paul Millsap (15.7), G Mo Williams (15.6) and C Al Jefferson (15.5) all average over 15 points a game.
About the Rockets • This is their fifth game in eight nights. ... Assistant Kelvin Sampson is coaching the team during Kevin McHale's leave of absence because of a medical emergency involving his daughter. ... G James Harden averages 26.7 points per game.
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