IT'S ALMOST HERE!
Granted, the preseason isn't the same as the regular season. For example, this won't be like the regular season previews with the matchups and bells and whistles.
It is, however, an actual basketball game being played by our beloved Houston Rockets.
Tip-off is at 7pm CST.
The story has been written many times, but humor me here: a young team has added a couple of pieces, namely an All-Star. They're hoping to take the league by storm and prove some doubters wrong. They want to make serious strides in the Southwest Division and the Western Conference. And they have a new team name.
See what I did there?
Okay, enough of that. As weird as typing Pelicans is (if I type Hornets on accident, I'm sorry and mean no disrespect), this is a Rockets blog full of Rockets fans that want to see Dwight Howard make good on his arrival. We want to see him healthy and we want to see some of the other new pieces on the team. But my first piece of advice for the preseason is this: Don't panic
and carry and towel.
Too many people overreact to the preseason. They see a player miss a jump shot, and they think he hasn't improved his shooting at all (because improving means they should shoot 100%, apparently). They see a player look lackadaisical on defense and think he won't be putting in effort on defense (because everyone goes all-out in the preseason). Or they see the player miss a left-handed layup and think he hasn't improved the use of his left hand at all.
Yes, that was blatantly a reference to Jeremy Lin's improvements over the offseason. But almost every major player on the Rockets has said they worked to improve some aspect of their game over the offseason, so that's something we'll be looking at. In reality, most players will still look relatively similar to last year, with maybe a few tweaks here and there. Do I think Parsons and Lin worked hard on their jump shot? Sure. Do I think we're going to see immediate dividends in the preseason? Not really.
Last year, the Rockets went into the preseason with a totally different team than they had at the beginning of the regular season. But what we saw from the preseason was a focus on quick-hitting offense, efficient shooting, and a general feeling of disgust towards defense. And that's what we saw when the season started. That's what you should be looking for tonight in addition to nits to pick against certain players.
So here are my keys to the game tonight, and please add your own in the comments. I'd love to see what you all say.
1. How is the defense looking?
Again, no surefire rotation player will go 100% (except perhaps the power forwards-we'll get to that), so this is more of a scheme issue. Are the Rockets pressuring up higher and forcing the point guards to make decisions early? Is the team communicating and does everyone understand their assignments on switches and cuts?
Defense is a chemistry thing too. Players will learn to trust each other as the season progresses, but we'll get an idea of how serious the Rockets are about defense tonight.
2. Who starts at power forward?
The immediate follow-up: does it matter? McHale might rotate Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones throughout the preseason. We know one will start and one will come off the bench, but the starter will almost certainly be the player that can allow the other starters to play their game without being a glaring weakness. The guy coming off the bench is likely to average plenty of points (maybe even more than the starter) and we'll be debating this issue all season. I expect Dinosaur Motorcycles and Jones to play 100% to impress the coaches on both ends of the court during the preseason.
3. How much time will the starters and rotation players be given?
It's likely that the Rockets will play a 9 or 10-man rotation this year. And we know the Rockets are set two-deep at every position but shooting guard (with some arguments I understand). So I don't expect much time to be given to those players that are guaranteed to get at least 10 minutes a night. For me, that's Lin, Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia, Motiejunas, Jones, Howard, and Omer Asik. I believe there are 9 other players at camp and we're going to be seeing more of them than the nine guys I mentioned.
BD34 already covered this topic in way more depth than I ever could, so you should check out what he wrote if you haven't done so already.
McHale said yesterday that he plans to give the starters 3 periods of 6-8 minutes on the floor (source: Jason Friedman).That means 18-24 minutes will go to the starters (source: math).
4. Are there any noticeable improvements made by any players?
This is a question we won't know the answer to until we're a month or so into the season. But here are some "don'ts" to keep in mind tonight.
Don't expect Jeremy Lin to never miss a shot now.
Don't expect Dwight Howard to have a complete arsenal of Dream-like moves in the paint.
Don't expect Harden to look like a shutdown defender.
Don't expect Parsons to have any hairs out of place. Dude's gonna look good regardless.
Don't expect one of the power forwards to go for 50 points and end this conversation immediately. Seriously, I think we're going to argue the merits of each all season and it won't end unless one of them absolutely starts killing it on a consistent basis, Morey trades one of them away, or Morey trades for an All-Star 4. So please, no crowning a winner tonight.
Don't expect Garcia, Beverley, or Asik to go 100%.
Don't expect Asik to openly mope and walk around like Charlie Brown throughout the preseason. As previously mentioned, he's not playing tonight (see Friedman tweet above). But as for Asik himself, we know he's a team player. He might still want a trade, and I for one can't blame the guy, but he's a Rocket right now and he only has one intensity level: high. If we get a whole season of Asik playing backup center and not causing a ruckus behind the scenes, I'm going to become an even bigger Asik fan, and that's tough considering I'm a charter member of the fan club around here.
But enough about me. What do you guys think? What are you watching for? What is the one thing you're guaranteed to overreact to?