The Rockets' backups simply outclassed the Grizzlies, even though they got 21 minutes from James Harden, 19 from Trevor Ariza and 24 from Terrence Jones. Zach Randolph, on the contrary, played just eight minutes and Marc Gasol played just nine. The score doesn't mean nearly as much as the performance. Speaking of...
My thoughts from the game:
- Yes, Trevor Ariza still looks like a perfect fit. He had two steal that led to easy Rockets baskets in the first half, which makes me realize that three-fifths of the Rockets' starting lineup are top 5 defenders at their position in the league. Yes, James Harden and Terrence Jones are bad to humiliating on defense, but that's more than almost any other team can say. And the Rockets were sneakily an above-average defensive team last year.
- James Harden looks locked in already. Playing for Team USA has clearly helped, but man he's engaged, driving hard, nailing jumpers, finding teammates, scoring on the break. It's against schlubs not playing hard (I'm assuming), but he looks in regular season, if not mid-season, form. He finished with 21 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds in almost 22 minutes.
- Jeff Adrien is a bad dude. His shoulders are so broad he might as well be three or four inches taller the way people bounce off him. He looks wildly uncomfortable on offense though. He and Tarik Black combined to dominate the Grizzlies on the boards after Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph left the game. Black had 9 rebounds at halftime. With Gorilla Dunks on a guaranteed contract, plus Dwight, Jones, and D-Mo, have to imagine one of these two is playing for the Vipers come November.
- It would be great to see something remarkable out of Isaiah Canaan, but instead he has looked very replaceable. Nick Johnson played point guard in the fourth quarter and he was a turnover-creating, tentative disaster. The Rockets looked like they had backup point guard options before the season, but tonight was very discouraging as to how they're going to replace Jeremy Lin. Lin may have choked in the playoffs, but it's hard to deny he was part of the reason the Rockets got there.
- Donatas Motiejunas followed up his excellent last game with a clunker. Lots and lots of mental errors, which isn't terribly concerning in the preseason. Still, the primary thing on which he needs to improve is consistency, and he was bad tonight. Would love to see him string multiple good performances together before the season begins.
- More on Tarik Black: man this guy hustles. David Zavac over at Fear the Sword had a great piece today on the value of offensive rebounds -- that is, whether they are valuable at all -- so this comment may not matter that much, but he works the offensive glass. Of his 15 rebounds, nine gave the Rockets an extra possession. It's fun to watch, too.
- The Grizzlies were briefly allowed back in this game, and then Troy Daniels got going. Holy cow, if you didn't know how well this kid could shoot (I don't know you couldn't after the Blazers series), he is for real. Quick, pure release, no conscience and knows where to be in the Rockets offense. He might play more than we think because he could become one of the league's best shooters. That's not an exaggeration.
- Terrence Jones worked his butt off on both ends. He finished with 15 points and had some head-scratching moments on both ends, but he was bouncy and giving hard contests for every shot. No one can say he doesn't hustle.
- Whereas Canaan and Johnson were bad, Ish Smith looks like the surefire backup, except for one problem: he can't shoot a lick. Like, really not at all. Which is a shame because he is so much fun to watch with the ball in his hands. He had a nasty crossover on Kalin Lucas in the fourth quarter and got to the rack easily. Displayed excellent quickness all game.
- Papanikolaou was so/so, canning a three-pointer and moving the ball well, but he still looks slow on defense and isn't a terrific ball-handler. Just don't think he deserves minutes over D-Mo, Adrien, Daniels, or even Black at this point. Maybe as a shooter in games with big deficits, but he would be out of my nine-man rotation if the season started today.