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John Wall vowed that he’d return to his previous All-Star form after missing almost two years due to heel and Achilles tendon injuries. His preseason debut with the Houston Rockets on Friday night at least hinted at that hope being possible.
It was also quite an encouraging first step in a Rockets uniform for DeMarcus Cousins, the four-time All-Star center who has been derailed by three major injuries while bouncing around to four teams over four seasons, including a torn ACL that sidelined him for all of last season after he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Tonight was just great to be back in an NBA game, period,” Wall said.
Wall, who was traded along with a protected future first-round pick from the Washington Wizards to the Rockets for Russell Westbrook, had 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, five rebounds, nine assists and two steals in Houston’s 125-104 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Cousins, who signed a one-year deal for the veterans minimum with the Rockets, had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 15 minutes during the blowout.
“It’s step by step with those guys,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We really didn’t know what to expect when those guys walked through the door, both of them coming off of injuries. They both played very well tonight. They both looked really good. They were fun. Hopefully, this is something we can build off of, but it’s a day-by-day thing.”
The pair appeared to pick up where they left off as teammates with the 2009-10 Kentucky Wildcats instead of showing rust from long injury layoffs.
Wall opened the game by driving left into the lane before executing a nifty Euro step and finishing with a right-handed layup. On the next possession, he delivered an assist to Cousins for a pick-and-pop 3-pointer.
“I just knew I was back,” Wall said. “I know how much hard work I’ve been through the last two years. It was a surreal moment for me even though it was preseason.”
Cousins and Wall accounted for all 14 points during the Rockets’ 14-2 run in the first three minutes, combining to score 11 and Wall dishing to Danuel House Jr. for a 3 during that stretch.
“Man, cool feeling,” Cousins said. “I kind of had flashbacks to being back in college where I would get caught up kind of watching the show of John. I had a few moments tonight just trying to wait and see what he had up his sleeve next to do. It’s a really cool feeling. I’m glad I’m able to share the floor with a guy I consider my brother.”
It was a welcome shift of the focus from the saga of James Harden’s brief holdout and desire to be traded. The Rockets were missing three of their likely starters, as forward P.J. Tucker remained in Houston and worked out with Harden and center Christian Wood sat out due to a left elbow injury.
“It was a good showing for whoever’s watching, whoever’s interested as well,” Cousins said. “It shows that it’s still a really good team here, regardless of the circumstances that are floating around the team right now. It’s still a really good team in place, a lot of talent. We’re not rolling over because a few pieces are missing. We’re going to go out and perform. Hopefully, those pieces join us and we continue to improve as a team.”
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