After just ten days of practice, the Houston Rockets will face the San Antonio Spurs in their first preseason game of the year. And, after spending the last several months with only the NCAA and 2k12 to provide my basketball fix, I'm pretty excited to actually see some Rockets basketball, even if it will be totally meaningless, at least as far as the standings are concerned.
But the Rockets have good reason to take this game seriously. The rotations are very far from set, the frontcourt in particular is a mess, and really only Lowry, Martin, and Scola have their starting places secure. Perhaps most importantly, they're playing for a new coach who hasn't had very much time to evaluate his new squad. Beating the Spurs or losing to them might not change anything, but for guys like Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Williams, and (yes, even) Hasheem Thabeet, this is an opportunity to show McHale what they can do. They might be worried that none of them are in even normal preseason form, but neither is anyone else, except for newly-signed rookie Chandler Parsons, who spent most of the lockout in France.
The Rockets might also be comforted by the Spurs' announced lineup:Tony Parker and Tim Duncan won't be playing (they won't even be in Houston). Instead, the newly-signed TJ Ford and everyone's favorite ACL-less rebounding monstrosity DeJuan Blair will be starting. Pops' main concern is keeping his veterans healthy and rested, not evaluating the whole roster live for the first time. They're trying to avenge the indignity of their early exit from the playoffs last season (you know, in the long-term, not tonight), not "seeing what all these kids can do."
In other words, we'll be seeing what is basically glorified practice tonight. That's usually true for preseason games, but with the Spurs resting two-thirds of their core and Kevin McHale saying he'll be going deep into the bench for minutes, the "scrimmage" nature of all this is really underscored.
There's good reason to watch, though. Tonight will likely feature your first glimpse of Marcus Morris in a Rockets game, I'd expect Thabeet to get some time on the court, and maybe we'll see the beginnings of Terrence Williams' breakout season (or maybe not). Most importantly, we'll be seeing some freaking basketball, and not that boring college crap.
Things to Watch Out For (for this game and -- hey why not -- the season):
1) Marcus Morris -- Morris is an intriguing player. His problems are well-explored at this point (he's not very fast, he's not a great leaper, etc.), but he comes into the NBA as a very talented offensive player. He's probably the most exciting Rockets draftee in a while (other than Llull, but he's not here right now).
2) Hasheem Thabeet -- BD34 has been at the forefront of the "Free Thabeet" movement in the comments sections, and while I would have laughed at the idea a week ago, at this point he's a more interesting option at center than anyone else. There are a lot of reasons to doubt him, but I'm going to invoke the Gerheim Principle and say he's worth a shot, at least. If the alternative is some ridiculous contract for Sammy Dalembert, then why not?
3) Terrence Williams -- With some good preseason performances and a commitment to defense, Williams might be poised to take over the starting spot most of us probably presume Chase Budinger owns right now. It's clear the Rockets' front office believes in him, though, since they spent a (protected) first pick on him last year. He's athletic, he's very athletic, and if he begins to put those trait(s) together this year he might become something more than just an inexpensive "project."
4) The Defense -- McHale has apparently spent "80%" of his first practices on the Rockets' defense. For a team that was 4th in Offensive Efficiency last year but 19th in Defensive Efficiency, it's pretty obvious what needs to be worked out. But Chuck Hayes is gone, as is Battier. That's troubling, but the Rockets have youth and energy on their side this season, and I think with the right commitment and rotations the team can improve enough to maybe be just average at defense. That would be pretty cool, right? Right?
Prediction for the Night:
Rockets by 5. All of the Rockets are probably (I hope) better than the Spurs minus their two best players. Maybe more reason for the Rockets' bench players to play a little harder, too.
For those of you in Houston, the game will be on My20. For those of you outside Houston, the game will be on NBATV (which sucks if you have League Pass...).
Discuss amongst yourselves below. Pay a visit to Pounding the Rock, if you feel like it. They're pretty good at what they do.