Saturday’s game against New Orleans, while a defeat, showed the potential of Houston’s starters as they manhandled New Orleans’s starters for most of the game. But it’s one thing to dominate New Orleans. It’s another thing to beat Indiana’s starters, who challenged the Miami Heat to 7 games last year despite a below-average bench at that time. Two of Houston’s starters were different in this game as Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones started in place of Jeremy Lin and Donatas Motiejunas, but once again the Rockets prevailed against Indiana’s best lineup for most of the game, and unlike the previous game where Houston’s bench collapsed against New Orleans’s bench in the fourth quarter, Lin led the Rockets to hold on at the end and secure their first preseason victory.
- Anyone who wants to make the starting lineup change as a sign of something permanent should, to put it quite bluntly, take a chill pill and remind themselves that it is preseason. That aside, there were some positives that appeared as a result. Jones did a relatively better job at defending David West, a long time Rocket killer, than Motiejunas, though West still had a good game with 12 points on 9 shots. Lin also had the opportunity to play floor general as the leader of the Houston bench, and thus helped stabilize the 4th quarter unit when Indiana went on a run at the start and came within 5 points. Against New Orleans, a lack of a scoring option at the end caused Houston to stagnate, and Lin’s presence prevented that from occurring again.
- Motiejunas definitely played better in tonight’s game. His post moves actually resulted in made shots and he used his speed to grab easy points on the fast break. There was a moment during the second quarter where he fell very awkwardly after racing for a fast break dunk, and for a second I seriously believed that we were looking at a replay of Andrew Bogut’s horrific injury from the 2009-10 season. Motiejunas was holding his wrist and sat out for the rest of the half, but he appeared to be fine as he came back on the court later. As the NBATV announcer observed, “It’s great to be young.”
- Against another All-Star level center in Roy Hibbert, Howard had a good, though not a great game. He picked up 2 fouls in the first 4 minutes of the game, though the referees were particularly quick on the whistle for both sides as Hibbert got 3 fouls in the 1st quarter. Howard did have problems scoring against Hibbert, and his free throw woes reappeared as he went 1-4 at the line. One thing that was noteworthy with Howard in the post is that he tried two stepback jumpers in the first quarter of the sort that Hakeem used to do in his prime, an indication of Howard’s lessons under the greatest Rocket ever. However, both jumpers missed, and Howard did not try that move again for the rest of the game. On the plus side, Howard did a very good job at passing to cutters in both Harden and Parsons who scored dunks off of Howard’s assists, and his defense as usual created a noticeable difference compared to when Houston was playing Jones or Motiejunas at center.
- The team’s offensive output really should be praised tonight, because it was an incredible offensive performance overall against one of the very best defenses in the league. Houston shot nearly 60% for much of the game against Indiana. And it wasn’t due to some hot shooting night, it was due to a team that ran, beat Indiana repeatedly on the fast break, and broke down the perimeter defenders to draw fouls on the big men or score. It was an offensive explosion from nearly everyone, even Brooks, Casspi and the bench mob.
- The one exception to today’s offensive brilliance is Ronnie Brewer, who is bad at shooting. Really bad. The fact that he’s a 26% 3 point shooter over his career should make that obvious, but it really is horrible to watch him be completely wide open on the 3 point line, and then take a shot with a form that looks something I would have tried when I was 8, only for it to inevitably clank off the rim. To top it off, Brewer had real problems shooting free throws as well, with one free throw just barely managing to hit the front rim at all. I talked about the importance of niches, which was one reason why I somewhat discounted Casspi’s efforts in the last game and liked Brewer for his defense. But perimeter defenders do need some offense as well, and so far Brewer has failed to provide any.
The next game will be the second and last part of Houston’s Asian roadtrip, as the Rockets will play at 12:30 am Central time in Taiwan. It will certainly be interesting to see the local reaction as Lin returns to his homeland.