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Houston Rockets 92, Memphis Grizzlies 73: A brutal preseason game

The preseason is over. The last game of the seven was easily the scariest of the set, and it had nothing to do with the physical, messy gameplay. James Harden limped out of the game in the first quarter nursing a bruised knee he suffered in during a four-point play. Houston’s expectations briefly seemed to be fizzling out just before ignition, but the news quickly came that Harden wasn’t seriously injured. Head coach Kevin McHale responded by pulling the starters in the tail minutes of the second quarter and never looking back. The Rockets proceeded to win convincingly, ending the preseason and looking forward to the first game that matters.

The score doesn’t quite tell the tepid tale of this game, which started with a blistering 30 point first quarter from the Rockets. The Rockets’ starters looked effective and dominant, but as the game wore on, it became hard to separate Houston’s skill from Memphis’ sluggishness. Both teams struggled to score for the rest of the game, and the last 36 minutes of the game saw the Rockets score 62 points versus the Grizzlies’ 63. Both teams combined to shoot 6-40 on three pointers and the Grizzlies hit 7 field goals in the first half. Only fans of defense had much to enjoy in this game, where even a blowout win shows little about the Rockets and has even less consequence on the season.

The good news is that Ömer Aşık and Dwight Howard seem to be able to play limited minutes together, especially against large, physical teams like the Grizzlies. The bad news is that the Grizzlies looked so off that it’s hard to assert that beating them means anything except that the Grizzlies are in a funk. Frustration seemed to set in early, as Marc Gasol pushed Patrick Beverley to the floor in the first quarter. The immediate scuffle between Gasol and Dwight Howard resulted in double technical fouls for both players. While shoving opposing players in a preseason game isn’t preferred behavior, it’s good to see Dwight Howard protective of his new teammates. The only real takeaway here is that the Rockets aren’t afraid to get physical, something which was a real question mark last season.

Omri Casspi was the big winner of the night, scoring 11 points on 10 shots despite missing all three of his three pointers. Casspi yet again looked competent against the Grizzlies, and it’s beginning to be hard to count his performance as a string of flukes. It may only be the preseason, but Omri Casspi continues to seem like a viable rotation player. Even if he only manages to earn limited minutes as a bench player, a young player on a veteran minimum contract producing at even that level is a good get. It may be seven more regular season games before we know if he’s actually as good as he looks, but there’s reason for cautious optimism.

The point guard position is always in one extreme or the other, it seems. After endless hand wringing last season about the perceived weakness there, the point guard position now seems overstocked. None of the players in that rotation may be All-Star caliber, but Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly both seem qualified to start, and Aaron Brooks is an acceptable insurance policy. Isaiah Canaan looks exceedingly rough, but seems to have some talent and may gain some polish on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he’s sure to soak up minutes and experience for months. Beverley was a real pest on defense yet again, racking up three more steals after starting the game. Lin subbed in early and did his best James Harden impression, which was inconsistent against Memphis. He was missing threes alongside everyone else, but he seems more aggressive than last season, barreling through any opening and often getting clobbered for it.

The power forward situation is no closer to a real solution apart from the perceived default. Ömer Aşık seems likely to start alongside Howard during the season, though this may be more for the sake of him than the sake of the team. Donatas Motiejunas only saw the court during the agonizing 26 minutes of garbage time, and may have fallen out of the rotation completely once the season begins in earnest. Terrence Jones was out with a sprained shoulder, so his standing remains unknown. The minutes rotation increasingly looks like a few minutes of Ömer Aşık / Dwight Howard Twin Towers with a lot of small ball in between. Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi are all capable of subbing in at the four, though the defense will be a question mark against larger teams.

Dwight Howard led the team with 10 rebounds in a mere 15 minutes, and his influence showed when he sat. The Rockets lost all rebounding ability when the bench unit subbed in, and may be the biggest cause for concern. Thankfully, more regular season games will feature more than 15 minutes of Howard and 18 minutes of Aşık, but rebounding on the bench may be spotty against larger teams.

This was a game worth forgetting for both teams, and hopefully will be placed firmly in the rear view by both franchises next week. Memphis would like to wash away a few grisly performances (I’m sorry. I had to do it.) while the Rockets want James Harden’s precious knees to recover post-haste. The bad news is that there are no more Rockets games for four days. The good news is that there are real Rocekts games in four days.

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