Taipei, Taiwan was hungry for a dose of Linsanity. The Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers made their way to Taiwan for an international Preseason game, a captive audience in far-off foothold for the NBA. The crowd hung on every play Lin made, and got on their feet when the final buzzer sounded Houston’s victory. They got some of the new, assertive brand of Linsanity. They also got another strong performance from the Houston Rockets, one which resembled an NBA game through the first three quarters of play. Until the reserves took the floor in the fourth quarter, both teams had something to prove. Preseason basketball has never been so hot.
The Pacers rode that heat with their three point shooting, knocking down half of the attempts they took. 11 of their 22 attempted threes found net, 10 of which came from Paul George and Danny Granger. The Pacers showed why teams have begun to look for the three point line in earnest. With threes, the Pacers’ offense lifts from spotty to sometimes deadly, a possibility that was out in force. As Granger and Paul buried three after three in the third quarter, Roy Hibbert manhandled his man, whether it be Dwight Howard or Donatas Motiejunas. This was usually a closer game than the previous match against the Pacers, and they played like the game mattered.
Unfortunately for Indiana, the Rockets came out with energy again, led by an extremely assertive Jeremy Lin. Lin got the lion’s share of the point guard minutes, and used it to put up a very nice stat line. He picked up 17 points on 8 shots, 4 assists, 3 steals(!) and a highlight reel quality block from behind on a Danny Granger fastbreak layup. It’s been said before, but it’s so striking that it bears repeating. Jeremy Lin’s shot looks leagues better this season, and his 3-4 shooting from behind the arc backs that up. He’s more willing to probe the lane, which helped result in his three turnovers, but also led to some extremely impressive passes, including a brutal halfcourt alley-oop to Chandler Parsons. Lin has improved his game across the board.
James Harden once again shot with abandon, but also had his own amazing alley-oop, this time to Dwight Howard. Harden’s 21 points on 12 shots and 4 assists don’t tell the whole story. Harden still takes baffling, covered shots, but he’s also using off ball screens to find open ones. His numbers actually could have been better if he had drawn a couple fouls he seemed sure would be whistled, but this was a manageable risk. He also passed the ball in to Dwight Howard in the post regularly, something that it’s impressive he’s doing.
Dwight Howard is working on a bank shot. It’s not there yet, so its frustrating to watch him miss those shots. His 10 points included a couple great alley-oops and a couple dunks, including a dunk to finish off a post move. The rest of his post-up attempts tend to result in shots that are works in progress, explaining his 5-13 shooting. Hibbert gave Howard all he could handle, and Dwight came up with a -2 +/- score and only 6 rebounds, a number he stared with two other starters, Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons.
Parsons had another solid if unassuming night. 11 points on 11 shots isn’t exactly worth writing home about, but a few of those points came at the business end of dunks, something which he seems to be moving back to. He can still rebound and still distribute, picking up 6 boards and 3 assists. He seems to be settling down at the same time as he’s going back to dunking in game, which is good news for Houston. He’s able to contribute in a few ways, and that means that some of his games will fly below the radar, even as he dunks all over the Pacers. He certainly exhibited less flash than his competitors at the 3, Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi.
The winner of the power forward battle might actually end up being a small forward, because Omri Casspi is blowing the 4s out of the water. Casspi’s 5-7 shooting, 9 rebounds and 2 assists might not look a lot better than Motiejunas’ 4-8 shooting, but Casspi’s game sure does. While Donatas often looks lost with or without the ball, Casspi plays within himself, and is sure of what he can contribute. Of all the players who took the court, Casspi is still the most surprising success story. After being doubtful to even make it through camp, his shooting, defense and awareness are light years ahead of the power forward rotation, something which should concern them. He’s well on his way to earning a roster spot, and is making a case for a shot at the starting lineup, eking out Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.
The team looks more capable, more mature and like a better version of last year’s team. for stretches in the second quarter, which the Rockets won 26-19, Houston looked nearly unstoppable. Whether or not pre-season games mean anything, the Rockets are showing progress on an individual and team level. They have something to prove, and they proved it to Indiana twice.