Rejoice, rejoice, for the new NBA season is upon us! Stretching off into the distance is the long and winding road of the regular season, with games coming thick and fast from now all the way through to April. 82 games of exhilarating, absorbing and at times exhausting basketball, with trade rumours and injury scares; with sweet victory and bitter defeat. So strap yourselves in and prepare for one hell of a ride (and if like me you don’t live in the right time-zone, 6 months of sleep deprivation!).
The Rockets come in on the back of a commanding 7-1 pre-season performance. Early signs look good for the integration of Dwight Howard and with the return of Terrence Jones the Rocket’s freshly-trimmed roster has a clean bill of health. In an interesting development, news has leaked that McHale will start Beverley and Lin will come off the bench.
The Bobcats have a point to prove as they take their first steps on the long journey out of the NBA’s basement. A 5-3 return on their pre-season outings is a welcoming sign for them, and they’ll be looking to build on it to start the regular season. Star signing Al Jefferson has been out with ankle injury but should be back ready to play in the opener, though possibly with limited minutes.
Rotation Spotlight: (in this section I’ll pick out one of the lesser known names on the opposing roster who I think is worth paying attention to)
Jeff Taylor (6’7″ SG/SF, Vanderbilt)
Taylor’s rookie season was a bright spot in an otherwise dour year last year for the Bobcats. He reminds me a bit of a young Chandler Parsons in some ways – a high second round pick who was able to crack the rotation early in his rookie year due to his tenacious defence, the ability to knock down the occasional outside shot (41% from the corners) and decent hops. Here’s a clip that sums up his game nicely.
When Jefferson is in the game, the Rockets should look to attack through the pick and roll. Big Al does not have the lateral quickness to defend the play properly, and given the quality involved in the Harden/Howard combination it should be a no-brainer. In pre-season, the Rockets looked to set up Howard on the block more than having him set screens, but the latter always looked more potent. It will be interesting to see if that was just pre-season experimentation or if it is here to stay.
The Bobcats are probably going to be playing small for large stretches of the game. I’d imagine McHale will look to match them, so we should be seeing healthy doses of Casspi at the 4 tonight, with all the juicy spacing and three point shooting that brings. We can’t reasonably expect Garcia and Casspi’s red hot outside shooting to last all year, but it would be nice if they could keep it up a while longer.
In Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor the Bobcats have a pair of defence-first guards to throw at James Harden. Both have shown they have the ability to stay in front of the league’s better players, but defending against Harden’s ‘old-man game’ requires some guile and positional nous that these two younger players may not quite have in their tool-kit yet. Combine that with the lack of a dependable defensive interior presence and you have a recipe for what should be a good night for the bearded one.
Getting Jefferson back will help, but because he’s probably not up to full strength the majority of the scoring load for the Bobcats will fall on the shoulders of young point guard Kemba Walker and his back-court mate Gerald Henderson. Last season Walker had a field day in his two bouts with the Rockets, putting up impressive stat-lines of 35/5 points/assists and 24/3/4 points/assists/steals in the two games. Walker is the type of point guard who Lin struggles to guard – his electric speed makes him a tough cover. This may be why Beverley has been inserted into the starting line-up (although it could also just be fit).
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will man the starting SF spot for Charlotte. His knock as an offensive player is his complete lack of an outside shot – beyond the restricted area he was limited to an abysmal 27% shooting last season. I think he might be a good candidate for cross-matching – Harden tends to struggle to keep track of outside shooters and doesn’t work hard to get through screens, but he may do better against someone he knows is trying to get to the basket.
This should be an easy win to start the season for the Rockets. Though the Bobcats project to be better this year, they are nowhere near the same calibre of team and the quality of the Houston players all the way down the roster should prove to be too much for them.