‘Melo joins Rockets for Houston’s latest bid to win title

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              Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) calls out a play during the first half of an exhibition NBA basketball game against the Shanghai Sharks Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
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HOUSTON (AP) — The Carmelo Anthony experiment in Oklahoma City didn’t go well last season.

The Rockets believe things will be different for the 10-time All-Star in Houston and that Anthony can be the piece stars James Harden and Chris Paul need to win the rugged West — and maybe win it all.

“We can win. I think he sees that, feels that,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Now it’s just up to everybody (and) they’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

Anthony balked at the suggestion he would come off the bench for the Thunder had he stayed. He still doesn’t want to talk about the possibility of a reserve role in Houston, but he seems to have made peace with playing with the second team if it means he might finally get a ring in his 16th season.

“At the end of the day whatever I have to do to help this team win a championship, then that’s what’s going to be done,” Anthony said.

Anthony was traded to the Hawks after one tough season with the Thunder, where he averaged a career-low 16.2 points in 78 starts. Atlanta released him to clear the way for him to sign with the Rockets.

The fresh start has the 34-year-old rejuvenated and finding joy in the game again as the Rockets look for their first championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1994-95.

“My focus level when it comes to playing basketball and working and trying to win a championship is at a high level,” Anthony said.

That’s music to the ears of D’Antoni, who at 67 is also still chasing his first title.

“Everybody on this team, especially the Hall of Fame guys, which is a lot of them, have got every individual award known to man,” D’Antoni said. “Now it’s just can you get the ultimate prize as a team player and kind of top your career off? I think (Anthony) realizes that, Chris realizes that, James realizes that — they all do.”

“So I think we’re in a good place to try to maximize everybody’s talents to try to win,” D’Antoni said.

The Rockets open their season at home Oct. 17 against New Orleans.

HARDEN’S ENCORE

Harden led the league by averaging a career-best 30.4 points last season to become Houston’s first MVP since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994. D’Antoni doesn’t see how Harden could get better. But he’s eager to see him try.

“There’s a hunger because he likes to play basketball and he likes to be good,” D’Antoni said. “That’s a hunger that comes from within and no coach could give him that. He has that. He wants to be great. He is already, but he just loves to shoot and practice and develop new things.”

GETTING DEFENSIVE

Houston’s defense took a hit in the offseason when free agent Trevor Ariza signed with Phoenix. D’Antoni said he is confident his team will be able to build on last season where the Rockets allowed the seventh-fewest points in the league. He said new additions James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams will help pick up the slack, and noted Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker are very good defenders.

“We’ve got plenty of guys to choose from,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve just got to figure it all out and get them in the right spots.”

CAPELA’S CONTRACT

Clint Capela signed a five-year, $90 million contract to stay with the Rockets and his teammates were quick to tell him they expect the 24-year-old center to play like a seasoned veteran this year.

“He has to,” Paul said. “Did you see what Clint signed for this summer?”

After eliciting some laughs with that comment, Paul continued.

“I’m serious,” he said. “That’s real conversations that we have. With that comes a lot of responsibility.”

Capela has steadily improved in each of his four NBA seasons and finished with career-bests in points (13.9), rebounds (10.8) and blocks (1.9) while starting a career-high 74 games last year.

CP3 AND THE BEARD

Paul and Harden erased any doubts that they would play well together by working brilliantly in their first season as teammates last year. With that experience under their belts, they’re eager to do even more this season.

“For sure,” Harden said. “We know each other a lot better now. I know how he likes to attack and where his spots are, so it should be even smoother.”

Paul was looking forward to increased chemistry not only with Harden, but the rest of the team, too.

“Throughout the playoffs we started clicking more, finding little plays that teams that have been together a while already had that synergy,” Paul said. “And we sort of have some of that now.”