Familiar rivals Rockets, Pelicans meet in NBA Global Games China

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When the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans meet for two preseason games as part of NBA Global Games China 2016 presented by Master Kong, it will feel a bit like “old home week” for both teams.

Old and very far from home, that is.

From the respective head coaches with a shared history, to the players who have suited up for both teams, to the familiarity of being in the same division, there is a lot that ties these two franchises together.

Those connections will be on display when the Southwest Division rivals face off on Oct. 9 in Shanghai and Oct. 12 in Beijing in the 10th edition of NBA Global Games China. Houston, which first competed in Shanghai in 2004 when NBA legend Yao Ming played before a capacity crowd in his hometown, will be making its fourth appearance in Greater China. This will mark the first visit for New Orleans, which will see plenty of recognizable faces on the other sideline.

When new Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni was changing the way offense is played in the NBA as head coach of the Phoenix Suns from 2003-08, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was his trusted assistant. Gentry later became head coach of the Suns and continued to feature the offensive principles installed by D’Antoni, who encourages his teams to push the pace, move the ball and spread the court.

When Gentry won a championship with the Golden State Warriors in 2015 while serving as associate head coach under Steve Kerr, he was quick to cite D’Antoni’s influence on the free-flowing approach embraced by two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and his teammates.

Upon being hired by the Pelicans in June 2015, Gentry made no secret of his intention to play a more up-tempo style built around 2014-15 All-NBA First Team selection Anthony Davis. But a 1-11 start and injury-shortened seasons for Davis and other prominent players spoiled New Orleans’ hopes and led to several changes in the offseason.

Two valuable members of the Pelicans, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, have moved on – in fact, they signed with the Rockets. New Orleans made several additions, selecting Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield with the sixth overall pick of NBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm and signing Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Lance Stephenson and former Rocket Terrence Jones in free agency.

The newcomers join Davis and key holdovers in former All-Star Jrue Holiday, who averaged 16.8 points and 6.0 assists last season; ex-Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who is looking to bounce back after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in February; and onetime Rocket Omer Asik, who has averaged 7.5 rebounds for his career.

The Rockets also have a different look this season, beginning with the arrival of Anderson and Gordon, two offensive talents expected to play big roles alongside four-time All-Star James Harden and incumbent starters Patrick Beverley and former Pelican Trevor Ariza. After eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard’s departure in free agency created an opening at center, Houston hopes to see continued improvement from third-year big man Clint Capela and a vintage season from 14-year veteran Nene, a free-agent signee.

New Orleans and Houston have another thing in common: Both are seeking to rediscover their form from two years ago. That’s when the Pelicans snapped a three-year playoff drought and the Rockets advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. As the two teams eye improvements, their trip to China is an important step in building chemistry and incorporating new players.