So, our old pre-season exhibition foe, the Indiana Pacers have slunk in to another Asian metropolis.
How they scraped together the money to get out of jail and buy a ticket, only their parents know. Things didn't turn out like they planned in the Philippines. The locals weren't that impressed. Now, they're hung over, sore in odd places, sweating, dirty, with credit cards maxed out and a backpack full of dubious, possibly criminal, souvenirs. They're hoping to find a job at an English school with low hiring standards for its staff and they're generally giving a bad name to 99% of Americans. The only people worse are the ones exactly like them, except with a little Canadian maple leaf patch sewn into their foreheads. It is entirely regrettable from an NBA public relations standpoint. Someone is getting fired, and the trust officer isn't happy, either.
Whoops! Sorry! I seem to be describing another, less savory, team of Americans entirely. The Indiana Pacers enjoyed a smooth flight, and checked into a five star hotel. David Stern dozes fitfully in a chair by the elevators, ready to enforce curfew. The Pacers are quietly hoping to avenge the friendly beating the Rockets put on them at Mall of Asia (and Mall of America in Minnesota says, "Come at me, Bro-Mall!".)
The contest in Manila was quite enjoyable, and surprisingly quiet, as the fans in attendance at Mall of Asia Arena behaved for the most part like concert goers attending a festival of Bach's more obscure works. They were after rarified performances, and bestowed their affections quite precisely. The fans were knowledgable* and saved their loudest cheers for the most impressive plays.
It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was in keeping with the enthusiastic crowds that followed the Rockets around Manila. They buzzed softly, but ubiquitously, and respectfully allowed the players some personal space. It was charming, really.
The Rockets presently reside in a city that gets little love and is mostly known for its azeleas, tall buildings, humidity, business success, love of food, energy, traffic, lack of aesthetics and love of chicken-fried steak in particular. It's Taipei! No, it's Houston! No, don't believe them, because they speak a different language and its always happy hour, again.Its Taipei!
Taiwan is the hallowed birthplace of All-American Jeremy Lin's parents. The residents seem to be very interested in Jeremy Lin. Aside from a few, desultory, questions about the Rockets every single query in the Rockets press conference was Lin, Lin, Lin, and a bit more Lin for flavor. If the question seemed to be about someone or something else, it was actually about Jeremy Lin. Its was utter Linsanity, to coin a phrase. And none of it, aside from playing good basketball with a fantastic backstory, and being a decent upstanding young man, is Jeremy Lin's fault. Honestly, its all kinds of awesome, and I'm still enjoying it.
I expect to see Lin start tonight. I expect to see him put on a show. I thought he looked really good in the Manila, and the Rockets sliced to the rim at will. In particular, Lin made a shot at the rim, with his left hand, you know his hand that isn't his right hand. Actually both Lin and Beverley have looked exceptional, and I wouldn't be surprised for them to get around 24 minutes a night each. Its a not a problem, its a luxury, as Kevin McHale said. Also, I never realized just how fast and coordinated Dwight Howard is. It's amazing. James Harden remains good at basketball and looks to be a bit sleeker than last season. Chandler Parsons is henceforth known as gao fu shuai.
In general the Rockets looked better than the Pacers, albeit in a meaningless contest rendered significantly less meaningless by the all the attention paid to it. For a pre-season game, both teams were pretty amped up in Manila and its easy to see the heightened intensity in all the international NBA games so far. It'll be interesting to see what the Pacers do differently tonight. Last season they handled the Rockets pretty easily. Last game the Rockets handled them. As I sort of view preseason as a test of depth, I do assign some limited meaning to pre-season, and I'm glad this test of depth was one the Rockets won.
Also, hello, Omri Casspi! Where have you been the past couple of years? This is what everyone thought would happen when you came into the league. Casspi is making a real case for sticking with the team. It's still difficult for me to watch Luis Scola in another team's jersey.
So Game 2 in the set of friendlies. I expect the crowd to be rabidly pro-Rockets, and ever more, Pro-Lin. It's a sort of homecoming for one of the most interesting players in the NBA, and I truly hope he lights the Pacers up.
What say you, Red Nation? What are you expecting tonight (tomorrow) (this morning) in Taiwan?
* A few fans in Manila jeered Dwight Howard with chants of "Kobe! Kobe!". But honestly, that's like chanting the name of someone's Ex after the long-awaited, vital and restorative break up of a miserable, and miserably public, bad relationship. Hearing the evil Exes' name just confirms what a great thing being broken up truly is.