There it is, your first NBA preseason Rockets game. The game was played in front a of pretty good crowd in Hidalgo, Texas (down in the Valley) home of the Rockets AAA affiliate "Rio Grande Vipers".
Orlando won it 97-88, and except for a push by the Rockets starters (with Hill in place of Yao) in the second half to narrow the gap, Orlando looked to be in control from midway through the second half on.
The Magic did their usual thing of inside out, and hit a goodly number of 3s. Rashard Lewis looked good, and a better fit at the SF/Big Wing spot, and Vince Carter once again reminded me what all the fuss was about so long ago. He can really do everything upon the occasion of it occurring to him to do so.
Dwight Howard apparently had some Hakeem magic rub off on him as he made a couple of bank shots, and drove to the basket looking fairly fluid, rather than the Wounded Cape Buffalo he normally resembles when doing anything but dunking. Dwight Howard with even a semblance of a proper center's offensive game is something to fear - if you have to respect his short jumper and spin move on D God help you (19/12/3blk in 27 min) .
Two last magic points - Marcin Gortat has surprisingly fast hands and nimble feet. He's a legit NBA starting center, maybe even an all-star given the sorry state of the position in general. JJ Redick looks like an NBA player - he was faster, stronger looking and more assertive than I've ever seen him. I'm surprised and dismayed.
Let's talk Rockets after the jump.
As for the Rockets, well it's all about Yao. He looked healthy (until he ended his night grimacing and limping - I'm guessing he tweaked his back somehow). The injury which I hope and pray is minor occurred when he was fouled on a shot. He also looked hesitant and slow and Howard put his new arsenal of moves on full display with Yao. (That's fine Dwight, let's see that when it counts.) Yao's play will improve with time and conditioning, assuming he's feeling fine. He fell a few times, but didn't seem to land awkwardly. I suppose I'm going to hold my breath every time he hits the deck.
Overall I'd say the Rockets timing looked off. It's one thing to practice full speed, it is another to go to game speed. Orlando is an essentially unchanged side that won 56 games last year - they looked like they were just knocking the rust off. The Rockets job is harder. They have to integrate Kevin Martin, Courtney Lee, and Jordan Hill as Yao's backup (at least until Miller comes back).
Ok, Bullet Points (The Lazy Man's Friend (tm))
- Kevin Martin looked good to me. Aggressive on offense, driving the rim, shooting without hesitation. His shot was a bit off, but seemed to come around in the second half. I'm unworried. His D wasn't bad, and he was active, with quick hands, causing a few steals. He's not a standout defender, but he's far from hopeless. There's a reason he's nicknamed Speed Racer. He's that fast.
- Courtney Lee - Well, well. Mr. Lee looks like very good value. Active D, aggressive on drives and shots, I thought he was the best Rocket player tonight. His ball handling wasn't Paulesque, but it was competent, and I think he can play some PG for you against Deron Williams and other large PG.
- Kyle Lowry - looks like his old self, only stronger and more assertive about getting his own shot.
- Luis Scola - looked a bit lost on offense.
- Aaron Brooks - that pull up middle jumper off the drive is one of the most unstoppable shots in basketball. He needs about 4 of those a game.
- Jordan Hill - much the same - flashes of brilliance, flashes of incompetence. He's a player that is just going to need a lot of minutes to develop consistency.
- Patrick Patterson - only played garbage time. He's large. I consider him the natural evolution of Ron Artest, but we'll see.
- Jermaine Taylor - hit a 3. If he's found that range we've found our "Instant Offense"
- Chase Budinger - logged a lot of minutes and looked ok. Like Martin his shot was a little off, but he looks like the answer for an offense-minded SF.
- Chuck Hayes - looked quick and useful, looks like the same strength with less bulk - he's not going to play C, and can go back to shutting down PF/SF and anyone else he comes near. Put back some garbage buckets and played good D.
That's all I've got. I hope Yao is ok.