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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Total comments: 23
  • Drew in Abilene says 9 months ago

    It's all about options and being well-rounded. It will matter most once the playoffs arrive.

    I agree. Remember how out of sorts LeBron looked when San Antonio was giving him open mid-range shots, daring him to shoot inefficiently? Even a player of James' ability level was thrown off for a few games. I completely agree that 10-15 footers are not what I want Howard shooting most of the time. I would argue, however, that even that limited bit of range could be crucial come playoff time. If he can punish defenses that give him too much space, it does a lot to create room under the basket for other players like Asik or our perimeter players when they make cuts to the hoop.

    Over the off-season, a whole lot of media members questioned Howard's work ethic and acted as if he wasn't mature enough or that he lacked the passion to truly improve himself. They called him a physical specimen who relied completely on his athleticism, and that his recent injuries were a sign of seasons to come.

    To me, watching Howard put in work under Olajuwon and McHale is a huge step in the right direction. Watching those shots bank in off the glass give me hope. I want Dwight proves the pundits wrong.

  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    Maybe I'm just imagining it...and I'm not pointing fingers at anybody...but it feels like we get in the same cycle on this issue every time. First it's, "Dwight/Omer can't hit a mid-range shot! Our offense will suffer!"...and then, after trying to show that they can I hear this, "Why would you want them to take that shot?!?! That's a terrible shot!" :lol:

    As I have said every time, of course that's not what we want. I'm only showing it's possible--not desirable.

    I do believe that Dwight might be able to make good use of it in certain situations. If he can pump fake from 10'-12' and get a defender to bite on it--even if it is only enough to get his weight shifted--I think Dwight can take one quick dribble (maybe throw in a spin move to protect the ball) and dunk from that spot.

    Did nobody watch this video I posted? Go to the 1:00 mark to see Dwight knocking down the mid-range.

    It's all about options and being well-rounded. It will matter most once the playoffs arrive.

  • Drew in Abilene says 9 months ago

    I think the majority of his 10-15 footers should be taken when Asik is on the floor. Not only would that give the Rockets a better chance at snagging the rebound, but could help unclog the lane just a bit for Harden, Parsons, and Lin. Maybe those shots will be dump offs after one of those three makes a drive and Howard's defender slides over as a help defender.

  • rocketrick says 9 months ago

    Well, we are splitting hairs here. Note the difference between 9 feet and 10 feet. (the chart I was using did not differentiate this way so our numbers won't match perfectly). Still, out to a range of 9' he shoots mid-40's for his whole career with hundreds of shots each season. Once you go to the 10'-15' range the number of attempts falls off with a combined 28 shots over the last two seasons. The problem is that gap. Are the majority of those shots 10 footers or were they 15 footers? In the 3-9' range where were those? Probably a lot of 3-4 footers. Unfortunately, we are trying to get an idea of Dwight's shooting from an area that is split by these statistics. Check out the video I posted in the Dwight creates space thread...Dwight looks like Tim Duncan on a couple of repetitions.

    Here is Dwight's last season in Orlando from Vorped.com (I like this site because it shows the actual spots on the floor he shots from.

    First the zone chart:

    0IEJVsN.jpg

    And here are the actual shots (allegedly)

    w1qOhMd.jpg

    Here is a point of reference. The bottom of the circle at the top of the key is 9' from the basket. I added the orange circle to give a point of reference around that 9' perimeter.

    27TRg0T.jpg

    Dwight is not otherworldly from mid-range, but I find this evidence to be conclusive enough for me. None of us wants Dwight shooting from mid-range (all of us around here know about it's basketball value). I simply disagree with the notion that he can't. To me, it looks like his range ends at about 15'. (Glancing back at the stats you posted they only had Dwight down for 15 shots from 10'-15' this same season.....one of these is clearly off....or both are :unsure: )

    If the Rockets ever have to begin relying on D12 hitting 10-15 foot mid-range shots then I believe our opponents will be thrilled it is D12 taking that shot rather than a dunk shot by D12 (or any other Rocket) or a wide open 3. Seems the Rockets system emphasizes layups, dunks, 3 point shots or free throws rather than significantcontributions from the mid-range. No doubt there will be times when the shot clock is ticking down and D12 will need to take that shot and I hope he is able to hit a reasonable percentage of those.

  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    Interesting JG. that last chart would seem to show your point that D-12 does have the abilityto hit the 12-15 foot shot. I saw in the grantland preview where J-Rose said he watch D-12 working out overseas and said he thought Howard had the ability to hit this shot. only time will tell, but the early returns seem promising

  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    I just don't see it. Maybe I am missing something. If Howard gets outside of the rim by very much he is reduced to below league average at the worst shot in basketball.

    5yQzo23.png

    Well, we are splitting hairs here. Note the difference between 9 feet and 10 feet. (the chart I was using did not differentiate this way so our numbers won't match perfectly). Still, out to a range of 9' he shoots mid-40's for his whole career with hundreds of shots each season. Once you go to the 10'-15' range the number of attempts falls off with a combined 28 shots over the last two seasons. The problem is that gap. Are the majority of those shots 10 footers or were they 15 footers? In the 3-9' range where were those? Probably a lot of 3-4 footers. Unfortunately, we are trying to get an idea of Dwight's shooting from an area that is split by these statistics. Check out the video I posted in the Dwight creates space thread...Dwight looks like Tim Duncan on a couple of repetitions.

    Here is Dwight's last season in Orlando from Vorped.com (I like this site because it shows the actual spots on the floor he shots from.

    First the zone chart:

    0IEJVsN.jpg

    And here are the actual shots (allegedly)

    w1qOhMd.jpg

    Here is a point of reference. The bottom of the circle at the top of the key is 9' from the basket. I added the orange circle to give a point of reference around that 9' perimeter.

    27TRg0T.jpg

    Dwight is not otherworldly from mid-range, but I find this evidence to be conclusive enough for me. None of us wants Dwight shooting from mid-range (all of us around here know about it's basketball value). I simply disagree with the notion that he can't. To me, it looks like his range ends at about 15'. (Glancing back at the stats you posted they only had Dwight down for 15 shots from 10'-15' this same season.....one of these is clearly off....or both are :unsure: )

  • Buckko says 9 months ago We can use this lineup and then someone counters and then we counter that. We are versatile unpredictable and adaptable. The three most underrated traits but in my opinion the best. Asik is a big reason why we can describe the rockets this way.
  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    They look like they'll be excellent against other teams with bruising bigs that prefer to stay closer to the paint, which is what we expected. The offense does look significantly more clogged with Asik and Howard in together, but we knew that was coming, too. Yet even with diminished ability on offense, both of the previous games showed proof of concept.

    Will it work out long term? We can't know yet. But as of now, I'm cautiously optimistic about playing them together for ten minutes or so a game against most teams, maybe more against teams like Memphis and Indiana.

    I agree. the last couple of games have shown us some of the problems with this lineup and some of the benefit with it and right now the benefit is worth exploring a bit longer.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    If the choice is between Harden attacking and Dwight taking mid range shots it's a no brainer lol

  • NorEastern says 9 months ago

    Howard can hit a 10 ft. jumpshot. This is a media-driven fallacy. He doesn't shoot very many mostly because he is Dwight Howard and dunks are better shots.

    I just don't see it. Maybe I am missing something. If Howard gets outside of the rim by very much he is reduced to below league average at the worst shot in basketball.

    5yQzo23.png
  • Drew in Abilene says 9 months ago

    They look like they'll be excellent against other teams with bruising bigs that prefer to stay closer to the paint, which is what we expected. The offense does look significantly more clogged with Asik and Howard in together, but we knew that was coming, too. Yet even with diminished ability on offense, both of the previous games showed proof of concept.

    Will it work out long term? We can't know yet. But as of now, I'm cautiously optimistic about playing them together for ten minutes or so a game against most teams, maybe more against teams like Memphis and Indiana.

  • Johnny Rocket says 9 months ago

    We'll need more time to evaluate the Asik/Howard pairing, and yes, it is likely that the pairing won't work well against all teams and at all times. But if you told me last week that the lineup would help produce a 20-point blow out of San Antonio on the road and hold the Memphis starters to a 10-point quarter, I would have shook my head in disbelief. Admittedly it is preseason play, but the early returns are excellent.

  • vonsteve says 9 months ago

    Yeah, that was the play I was referencing. Thanks for posting it.

  • Richards says 9 months ago

    Asik and Howard combo produced mixed result. A perfect line up to go against team like memphis. But I still want to see them extended minutes together.

  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    Rahat that play illustrates how the two can sort of tag team shots at the rim by opposing teams. very encouraging.I am confident they can play together defensively especially if given more time to work out the kinks. however much work remains offensively. Memphis clearly had a problem scoring against a team who could match up to their bigs without needing to double either. Asik/Howard will clearly give teams fits trying to score at the rim, but teams who can't match up to them will try to go small and outrun them. Memphis doesn't have that option, but with other teams this will be a counter measure to attempt to get Asik off the floor. great thing about it though is it probably will play right into our hands because the right now the small balllineup appears to be our best. it's hard to contain expectation with this team. the options and available weapons allow us to play almost any type of game. Morey has assembled a minefield for opposing teams. it's now up to McHale to deploy those mines :P

  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    I love that. Post players have to extend so far to get around Asik it's like tee-ball for Dwight.

  • Rahat Huq says 9 months ago

    http://youtu.be/_f6qIT1wQI0

  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    Howard can hit a 10 ft. jumpshot. This is a media-driven fallacy. He doesn't shoot very many mostly because he is Dwight Howard and dunks are better shots.

    Go to vorped.com and check out his shot charts. Last year's is dismal, but I will file that under injury or whatever happened in LA. Going back to 2011-12 he shot 48.8% from mid-range (21-43). Not a huge sample, but take it for what it is. In 2010-11 he shot 41.9% (72-172) a larger sample with slightly lower results. Still, shooting 43.3% collectively over two seasons from mid-range is far from "not having a 10 foot jump shot". (Omer shot 36% on 9-25 shooting from mid-range last season. Not terrible...not good either...Josh Smith shot 29.9% from mid-range last season...ouch!)

    As far as running Howard ragged--I agree teams will try it. I say let them. We can switch to a zone with our length and speed on defense and just watch them run themselves ragged. Besides, zones can be used to coerce opponents into shooting long two's--something I think we would be pleased by.

    You are also right about teams using speedy 6'8" guys to try and thwart our attack. I think this is a matter for the coaches. We have a mis-match too and it is up to them to put the guys in position to exploit it. I believe they can.

    What I think is crucial is that when playing together, if one of them is shooting a jump shot the other needs to crash the boards hard (and probably Parsons/Casspi/Garcia too)--this should get us enough second chances to push the percentages back into our favor.

    According to Basketballreference.com, the Rockets rebounded 26.4% of the balls on the offensive end--and this is pre-Dwight. I would not be surprised to see that number crawl upwards. Presuming the 2 of them combine to shoot 40% from mid-range and we collect at least 25% of the misses we are talking about an extra 3 possessions per 20 shots. Given the nature of offensive rebounds I think it is safe to assume a 66% conversion rate on those. This pushes the total fg% up to 50%--yay!

  • NorEastern says 9 months ago I would not be to optimistic about the Howard/Asik pairing yet. It is the preseason and most teams will immediately go small and run Howard all over the court until he becomes ragged. This works because Asik is not much of a threat offensively. He can be effectively guarded by a 6'8" small forward. Going small defensively is an advantage for the opponent because the defensive rotation to double Howard will arrive quicker. And the recovery will be faster if Howard passes out of the double team. It will not be long at all before the NBA figures this out. We just have not seen it yet because the opponents are not playing to win, they are playing to get a preseason look at their standard offense and defense.

    Howard/Asik is not the second coming of the twin towers. Neither can hit a 10 foot jump shot. That weakness will be exposed in the first week of the season. And it certainly does not seem like it would be viable in a playoff series.
  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    this game got sloppy, but not before Houston totally dismantled Memphis's attack. Memphis seem to become upset at how difficult it was to score against us leading to what I feel were some cheap shots. I was encouraged by how well Howard/Asik combo shut down the Grizzleys. I figured if this combo was ever going to work this is the team it would be most effective against. these last two preseason games now have me leaning in the direction of keeping Asik. I saw enough within these two games to warrant giving this lineup more time to work out the kinks

  • Drew in Abilene says 9 months ago

    http://blog.chron.com/ultimaterockets/2013/10/rockets-defense-shuts-down-spurs-grizzlies-in-back-to-back-games/

    "Facing the two-fisted front court of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Rockets defense allowed four points in the paint in the first 22 minutes before Rockets coach Kevin McHale began clearing the bench. By then, the Grizzlies had made just 9 of 30 (16.7 percent) shots. When the Rockets pushed their lead back to 22 midway through the second quarter, the Grizzlies had made 5 of 27 shots with eight turnovers. In the 12 minutes that Dwight Howard and Omer Asik played together, Memphis scored just nine points."

    For sure Memphis was way off last night and it's still the preseason, so I don't want to read too much into the performance. But even so, those are some staggering defensive numbers! 5-27 on shooting with 8 turnovers? It's hard for an NBA team to play that badly. 9 points in 12 minutes against Howard-Asik combo? That's crazy.

    I want to see this kind of defensive production consistently from the Rockets early in the season. By the All-Star Break, I would love for the story to have changed from everyone knows Asik will be traded to "Can the Rockets challenge for a top 2 seed and possibly make the Finals?" I'd love to see Asik prove that he's indispensable to Houston. Maybe he lights it up but still gets traded, but games like this in the regular season can only increase his trade value. I want to keep him, but if Houston trades him, they better get back someone great.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Casspi was taking step back jump shots off one leg like his last name was Hardenwitzki lol

  • vonsteve says 9 months ago

    Sloppy game, but that Asik/Howard combo on defense looked amazing early on against a bigger team like Memphis. I remember one play in particular where a Grizzlies shooter had to make a huge adjustment mid-air to avoid Asik's block only to have it blocked by Howard. That was pretty sweet.