After the Rockets' 95-92 victory over the Suns (3-0 baby!), there are no easy answers for Kevin McHale in his search for a backcourt rotation behind obvious starters Patrick Beverley and James Harden. All four young guards - Nick Johnson, Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, and Troy Daniels - had bright spots, and it was Canaan with the biggest impact after a clunker in his previous outing. He finished with 16 points, three assists and zero turnovers, and was the clear leader on the floor in the fourth quarter.
At the risk of sounding redundant, this was a sloppy preseason game, especially in the first half. Predictably, the starting five for the Rockets was a mess without Harden and Howard, the two focal points of the offense. Kostas Papanikolaou was easily the most aggressive player on the court in the first quarter, going 2 of 6 from the floor before being removed with four (FOUR!) fouls in just over eight minutes. Houston missed their first 12 three point attempts, as the offense was fitful at best - Pat Beverley was not the calming floor general a playoff team requires at point guard. Trevor Ariza was removed early and played only 15 minutes total, and without him on the floor early, there was no real shooting threat, and as a result, no spacing for dribble penetration.
Kevin McHale's minutes distribution seemed designed to work on the reserves' conditioning, using long rotations to give each lineup a lot of run together. Terrence Jones led the team in minutes with 28 (he also led the team in points with 18), and Troy Daniels played the entire second half.
Daniels and Isaiah Canaan continued to show promise despite not playing a minute in the first half. Daniels showcased his endless range and quick release, hitting 4 of 8 shots (3-6 from distance). Isaiah Canaan first entered the game for Ish Smith after the Suns went on a run to go up 57-48, and spurred the Rockets' following 14-2 run (with a couple of threes from Daniels). After the Suns hit back to take an eight-point lead with six minutes remaining, Canaan took over, driving relentlessly for both finishes and (some) passes to bring it home.
Ish Smith and Nick Johnson both showed flashes of energy and confidence, but only one of them showed flashes of a jump shot, and you know which one. Ish finished 1 of 4. Nick got hit in the face by a screen real hard.
As far as the big men go, Donatas Motiejunas continues to frustrate. His sheer size gives him countless opportunities to make plays in the post (especially against the undersized Suns), but he's a maddeningly inconsistent finisher and an unsteady passer from that area. He finished with 9 points on 3-8 shooting with 3 turnovers. Tarik Black was again impressive, playing the five for most of the second half to the tune of 8 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. D-Mo better be careful, because he's definitely got competition for minutes now. Jeff Adrien was nondescript, and Terrence Jones again showed he can score in bunches when facing smaller defenders.
Defensively, the only real takeaway from the game is that no one could guard Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. When the starters were in the game, Beverley checked Bledsoe and Ariza took Dragic, but neither had much success. They both got open looks at the bucket and from the three-point line nearly at will. This is a scary thought entering the regular season. The backups certainly were energetic on D, but were awfully sloppy in transition.
Along with the big two, Jason Terry also sat out this game. How he figures into the mix still remains to be seen, especially with Daniels looking like an absolute assassin from long range. Clint Capela remains a no-show. Francisco Garcia played tonight, I'm told.
At halftime, this happened, courtesy of Seth Pollack:
Look at his reaction! "Did I do that?" Yes you did, Clutch! Yes you did!