The Rockets have clearly had their fun over the past few days in Taiwan. Jeremy Lin went shrimp fishing like he did last year, Yao Ming showed up at a reception for the Rockets, and Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons had their laughs helping at a Special Olympics clinic. But at the end of the day, they and the Indiana Pacers are here to play basketball. And so they shall, at 1:30 in the afternoon in Taipei but at half an hour past Sunday midnight in Houston.
Eric Nielsen did an excellent job covering the differences between the Pacers and the Rockets in the earlier preview, so there’s no need to cover it in too much detail. Houston’s team offense overwhelmed Indiana, a team who last year posted the very best defense in the league as measured by Defensive Rating, this past Thursday, and one can expect the Pacers to take the game a little more seriously this time despite preseason. Paul George and former Rocket Luis Scola both played well in the earlier contest, and David West has always given Houston plenty of trouble even in his earlier days playing with Chris Paul on the Hornets. I will admit that I do think Indiana is the single most overrated team in the league, due to their tough series with Miami whom the Pacers particularly match up well against, but regardless of my personal opinions, the Rockets will need to continue to play hard and execute well against one of the better teams in the league.
The most interesting storyline for this game will be Mr. Lin. Coach Kevin McHale has declared that he intends to rotate his starting point guard and power forward throughout the preseason, which means that Lin (and Donatas Motiejunas) will start in front of what will be an almost completely deranged Taiwanese crowd, celebrating the prodigal son’s return. Will Lin be able to play well in front of his peers? Does the idea of Lin taking a Harden-in-OKC role have any actual water to it, or is it just people overreacting to Coach McHale doing preseason experiments with his rotations? As I argued in the earlier recap, people should not stress out so much about any lineup experiments and should just wait for the regular season to begin before worrying about Lin’s future and role.
Another question will be Howard as he prepares to face off against Roy Hibbert again. The two big men more or less cancelled each other out in Thursday’s contest in the Philippines, as neither had particularly good offensive games and struggled with referees who were very quick to blow the whistle during the entire game. Howard does have an issue against bigger, more traditional centers, which Houston fans witnessed back when Yao Ming regularly defeated a younger Dwight Howard (slightly off-topic: it’s always been fairly aggravating to me over the years even before Dwight came here watching Houston fans use those contests as some sort of unquestionable evidence that a healthy Yao was superior to Dwight. The tragedy of Yao’s fall has let people forget some of his many flaws as a player.) Tonight’s game will give Howard a second chance, to show what he can do against stiffer competition than New Orleans’s weak big men.
Then there are smaller questions, mainly on those fighting for the end of the bench. Can Aaron Brooks regain his form? Can Omri Casspi show that his currently stellar play is not just a hot streak, and that he has something to offer as an all-around backup? How will the big man rotation work? Can Ronnie Brewer hit a jumper before I die of old age? Questions like these as opposed to the outcome are what really matters as the Rockets play tonight/tomorrow morning in front of their international audience.
At the time of this preview’s writing, there has been no word on whether Omer Asik, Reggie Williams, Francisco Garcia, or Greg Smith will manage to return from injuries for this game. Asik did say when he was first diagnosed with his strained calf that he hoped to be ready for this game, but for now, I would just expect all of them to sit out and wait until they return to the United States. Marcus Camby, sadly, is suffering a torn plantar fascia and will miss at least a couple of weeks. I don’t exactly think we’re looking at the next Dikembe in Camby, but Houston should hope he can be ready for the regular season opener against Charlotte.