Three hours before Wednesday night's contest against the Thunder, a clearly fatigued Kelvin Sampson sat on the Houston Rockets' bench at Chesapeake Energy Arena and whispered, “I'm curious how much these guys will have left in the tank tonight.”
A physically and emotionally draining 26½ hours mercifully ended for the Rockets with a 120-98 setback to the Thunder before a sellout crowd of 18,203.
“Actually, I was kind of proud of our guys,” said Sampson, the former Oklahoma coach. “I thought we hung in there about as long as we could.”
The Rockets' journey began with a 117-101 victory at home over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. A 40-person travel party of Houston players, coaches, staff members and front-office personnel flew to Minnesota after the game to attend Wednesday services for Alexandra “Sasha” McHale, the 23-year-old daughter of Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who died last Saturday from complications of lupus.
After the Rockets received approval from the NBA to arrive later than normal for their next game, Houston's charter flight arrived in Minneapolis around 2 a.m. Wednesday. The team left for the memorial service at 10 a.m., paid their respects to the McHale family, flew to OKC and arrived around 2 p.m.
Rather than check into a hotel, the team went directly to the arena and began prepping for the 7 p.m. tip against the Thunder.
In addition to the normal pressures that go with facing the defending Western Conference champions, this was the first time James Harden would play against his former teammates after the Oct. 27 trade that sent him, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two conditional first-round draft picks and a second-round pick.
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