Dwight Howard and James Harden looked ready for the season to begin, but the Rockets came up short against the Miami Heat in their preseason game Tuesday night.
Howard and Harden each scored 19 points, with Howard pulling down 9 rebounds and Harden shooting 4-7 from deep with three steals and impressive defense (yes, that's Harden I'm talking about.) Howard played 28 minutes and Harden 26, their most extensive action of the preseason so far.
Howard, in particular, impressed, throwing down huge dunks like this one, grabbing rebounds and destroying Chris Bosh on the block. His footwork in particular was impressive, as was his ability not only to finish through contact, but to dunk. He looked strong and athletic, more so than he did at any point last year.
Terrence Jones was another bright spot for the Rockets, in particular for this ridiculous hustle play he made in the third quarter. No one has ever questioned Jones' motor, and more hustle plays like this can make up for some of his defensive deficiencies.
Jones shot terribly (2-9 from the field), but he grabbed 8 rebounds, and, along with Howard and Donatas Motiejunas (10 boards), helped the Rockets win the rebounding battle.
Motiejunas looked aggressive on the boards and hit a three-pointer. Kostas Papanikolaou became the story of the game because Marv Albert, Greg Anthony and Grant Hill are all morons and can't pronounce a phonetically spelled name. Papanikolaou: It's Not That Hard.
On the court, Papanikolaou was ice cold, shooting 3-11, but he made was another beautiful lefty hook shot off a ball fake in the lane. You're going to see a lot of highlights of this move absolutely embarrassing opponents this year, so get ready.
After those two, the bench was horrible, but for much of the fourth quarter when they played, they were going against Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and other Heat regulars, something they wouldn't see much of this year unless catastrophe struck.
Ish Smith played 20 minutes and didn't do anything of note. He looked fast as always, but had an abhorrent five-second penalty when the Rockets had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Isaiah Canaan didn't get off the bench, and as many Rockets fans feared, now looks like the odd man out of the backcourt rotation.
I declared Troy Daniels ready for a breakout season, but I'm less confident after tonight. He hit two threes quickly after entering the game in the fourth quarter, but did nothing after that and got dominated by Dwyane Wade on both ends of the court when the superstar re-entered late in the game. Daniels had yet to face an opposing team's frontline shooting guard, and he did not acquit himself well.
Tarik Black also appeared to regress, and if the season started today, it's hard to imagine him getting more than 8-10 minutes a game. Motiejunas might be the only center type McHale can trust right now, and it'd be hard to blame the coach. Nearly every time Black touched the ball, save for an easy dunk on an inbounds play, it ended poorly, including two blatant offensive fouls.
The bench minutes are key in the transition from the Lin-Asik led units to the Big Papa Donuts era, and right now the picture doesn't appear much clearer, except to say the veterans will probably play if the young guns can't step it up.
The Rockets fall to 4-2 this preseason, and a lot more of these bench guys will play tomorrow night against the Orlando Magic. It's a week from the season, and hopefully once it starts we'll be able to focus on how dominant Howard and Harden look. Until then, I will continue to obsess over how it's looking more and more like the bench will be a huge problem this year.