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Rockets Keep Rolling

James Harden and Patrick Beverley shine again as Rockets roll to 108-104 win over Orlando

HOUSTON - Instant analysis and observations from Houston’s 108-104 win over Orlando Wednesday night at Toyota Center:

- Tonight’s game found the vast majority of Houston’s players still trying to shake off the effects of some serious jet lag felt in the wake of their eight-day Asia excursion. Several players copped to their continued battle with lingering exhaustion following this morning’ shootaround and, in some cases, it’s manifested itself in more than just road-weary legs. Jeremy Lin arrived at the arena with flu-like symptoms so he was promptly sent home to rest. Chandler Parsons, though not ill, was given the night off as well. So Houston trotted out its fourth different starting lineup in as many games this preseason, rolling out a fivesome featuring Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi and Dwight Howard.

- Following that same line of thought on the fatigue train, it came as no surprise to see the Rockets get off to a ragged start. Houston’s starting five, regardless of its composition, has been nothing short of dominant this preseason, but after beginning the game with a pair of made triples, Houston’s ledger rapidly filled up with turnovers, missed shots, mental errors and other assorted miscues. On offense that often meant a slew of botched post entry passes while the end result defensively was a cadre of Orlando shooters left all by themselves in the corners.

Still, for all their sloppiness, the Rockets emerged from the period owning a 33-29 lead thanks in large part to the utterly unstoppable Harden who knocked down a ridiculous, off-balance 28-footer to beat the end-of-period buzzer to finish the frame with 15 points – reason No. 1,265 why life in the NBA is so much more enjoyable when you have a superstar on your side; even on the ugliest of nights they can manage to make their team look relatively pretty. The 24-year-old had scored 21 points in each of Houston’s first three preseason affairs, and that run stretched to four this evening – though Harden needed but a single half to do so as the All-Star drained seven of his 12 shots from the field – including a 4-of-6 mark from downtown – during his über efficient 18 minutes of play.

- One also shouldn’t overlook the contributions of Patrick Beverley. In a game desperately crying out for early energy, the eternal sparkplug delivered the goods, racking up 10 first quarter points to go along with five rebounds. He would go on to finish with a near double-double, totaling 13 points, 9 rebounds (an astounding 6 of which came on the offensive end), three assists and a steal. His preseason averages to date (accrued while averaging 24 minutes per game): 9.75 ppg, 4.25 apg, 4 rpg, 2.25 spg, 65 percent shooting from the field and 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.

What a preseason so far for Houston’s point guards. Both Beverley and Lin put in an enormous amount of time this summer working on their respective games and the dividends from their diligence have been nothing short of sensational thus far. In fact, it’s hard to imagine either player performing at a higher level at this point than what we’ve seen from them in October. It goes without saying that their continued success would only serve to make this team so much more dangerous and versatile going forward.

- The Rockets came into training camp determined to make a concerted effort toward better defending corner 3s. Suffice it to say those efforts will be revisited and redoubled in tomorrow’s practice following tonight’s performance. After making major strides in that area over the course of its first three preseason contests, Houston conceded far too many wide-open looks from the corners this evening, especially during the first half. Those sorts of mental errors are not going to fly with Houston’s coaching staff.

- Houston’s starters brought better execution and energy to the second quarter, delivering a pair of highlights that came courtesy of Dwight Howard’s prodigious shot blocking ability. He swatted two shots in the period, both of which unleashed James Harden to wreak havoc in transition. Probably safe to assume sentences of that ilk expressing a similar sentiment will likely be a regular occurrence for the Rockets all season long.

- Not surprisingly, neither of Houston’s superstars clocked a second of playing time in the second half Wednesday night, opening up plenty of playing time for Houston’s reserves. That led to what was largely a mixed bag of results with bright spots like Donatas Motiejunas’ low-post scoring (he shook off a slow start to pour in 13 points) occasionally offset by the not unexpected defensive deficiencies and mental miscues typical of youth, inexperience and a lack of familiarity. One highlight likely to be overlooked because it doesn’t always translate to the box score: Ronnie Brewer displayed some serious lockdown defensive mettle – not surprising given that’s been his calling card in this league for the vast majority of his career.

QUOTES

ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN MCHALE

(On Omri Casspi's play) “He's played almost exclusively at the four (position) for them the entire preseason. He didn't have the best rhythm in the world but again, he had six rebounds and five assists. He makes nice plays. I like what I see. He's been good. With all those guys, it is going to be finding their rhythm. He plays better with different people. You kind of have to see who he's playing with. I think him playing with Dwight (Howard) or Omer (Asik) will help him because those guys really rebound. He's been rebounding really well for us. It will kind of be an ongoing thing but I do like what I see out of Omri. He played very good for us. He just kept on battling away tonight. He tied Aaron (Brooks) for the most assists on the team. I like that.”

(On Patrick Beverley playing extended minutes) “Patrick's played extended minutes for us before. He had nine rebounds, six of them offensive. He just gets his hands on a lot of balls. He just makes a lot of stuff happen. When he's on the point of attack defending, usually good things happen. He's a diligent defender. He's a very tough kid. He's got long arms. He stays in the play. He's just a really competitive guy.”

(On the point guard attacking the offensive boards) “With Patrick (Beverley), yes. With most guys, no. Patrick has a great nose for the ball. Occasionally, they'll get a run out on top of that. He's going to more than make up for that with his offensive rebound and getting his hands on balls and coming up with the rock. The other two and three have to be aware of that and get back. We want to be aware of that.”

(On Dwight getting the ball in the post) “We got to work out some stuff. They fronted and we did a very poor job of getting the ball into him. We didn't react very well to the front. I'm sure he'll be fronted a lot during the year. So, we have to improve our angle when we pass. We'll take a look at that as a team. We've got to move a little bit more and try to hit him off of some action. Sometimes we came down and kind of stood there, stood there and pumped, pumped, pumped, pumped, pumped and looked at him.”

(On the overall team play) “Knowing where we've been over the last few days, I knew we were going to be tired. We had some guys out there that were not as sharp as they need to be. Offensively, we had some good runs but we were bad defensively. We just needed to muddy through this game. I think the next few days in practice will be good for us. Eventually, we will all get back on central time.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the Rockets effort tonight) “I thought it was a little sluggish but I'm happy that we got the win. There are some areas that we need to improve in but you're going to have games like this, four games in six nights, where you're going to have to deal with that. We just got to learn from our mistakes.”

(On the Rockets having 36 three point attempts offensively) “I'm just trying to do whatever I can to get guys open but once we knock those shots down, teams are going to be reluctant to double team.”

 DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS

(On Orlando's defense keying in on Dwight Howard) “They (Orlando) tried to cut down on the first pass and they were doing a good job of denying the big guys. That left us open on the three point line. Sometimes it works but tonight we were able to hit a good number of threes.”

(On how he felt playing tonight) “I'm still in a different world. I feel tired but it is how it is. We have to go out and fight no matter what.”

PATRICK BEVERLEY

(On playing on extended minutes) “It's always good to go out there and play some minutes. J (Jeremy) Lin was kind of ill today. It was good. We came out and had a really good defensive 3rd quarter. We held them (Magic) to 20 points. We were able to get the victory. Any win is a good win, definitely.”

(On his rebounding efforts) “I've just been lucky. T (Terrence) Jones and Dwight (Howard) require so much attention. So, I just go in there and scoop the loose ones out. I tried to go in there and make plays whether it is on the offensive or on the boards.”

ORLANDO HEAD COACH JACQUE VAUGHN

(On play against Dwight Howard)  ”I thought overall, Nick had a good night for us. Defensively, he got in good early position and that helped us. He was committed to doing that. He has great hands and great feet and he was able to use both tonight. I love that he got a couple of bruises after the game. On his arm, underneath his eye, so that means he came to play. If you go home every night with some sort of scar, gab or a band aid, it means you came to play. He got a couple of bruises and I loved seeing it.”

(On his thoughts about the Rockets) “They are going to be something to handle in the West. They put up 33 3’s and that’s tough to guard. They have an accountability on the defensive end with Dwight in the middle defensively.”

(On Victor Oladipo) “For the first time, we had him and Jameer (Nelson) in the game at the same time and I wanted to see that combination. I think defensively, he did some good things. He pressured the basketball and got out in transition and I want him to be more aggressive, attack the rim even more. I want him aggressive from the time he laces up his shoes in the morning to the time he takes them off at night.”

NIKOLA VUCEVIC

(On his play against Dwight Howard) “I had a tough assignment and I tried to limit Dwight as much as I could. I thought I did a pretty solid job but obviously it’s hard to stop him. You just have to limit him. They run a lot of plays for him and I thought defensively I was there for my team. You have to do your job early against a guy like Dwight. He’s a very good and physical player. If you let him get too deep, there’s not much you can do. I wanted to be as physical as I could and my teammates did a great job helping me when I was fronting him. Tonight tells me I can go against the best players in this league. I held my own pretty well and I limited him pretty well but it wasn’t easy. This showed me I could do it and made me believe in myself.”

(On The Rockets) “They didn’t have their whole team out there but they are a good team. They play fast and they are very defensive minded especially with Dwight and Omer Asik. It’s going to be really hard to score against them when those two guys are on the court.”

JAMEER NELSON

(On the Magic’s team play and their accomplishments) “The main thing we are trying to get accomplished right now is to establish an identity and just play hard. We have to get better everyday. Film sessions, practice, games and even as individuals. This is a stage for us as an organization that we are trying to build something. Basically, we are starting from the ground level and the only way is up.”

(On seeing Dwight Howard in a Rockets uniform) “I just wish him luck and hopes that he stays healthy and still in my eyes, he’s one of the best players in the league and a dominant big man.”

(On the Rockets) “I don’t know. I can’t really tell you what’s going on in their locker room but I’m working on what were doing. They have a good team and are very competitive and have a lot of pieces.”

NOTES

The Rockets dished out 25 assists tonight, giving Houston a total of 103 assists (25.8 apg) in just four games this preseason.

Houston finished 15-of-36 (.417) from beyond the arc tonight. The Rockets were coming off a 15-of-33 (.455) game from downtown in its second Global Game vs. Indiana (10/13/13).

The Rockets continued their quick starts tonight. Including this game, Houston has now outscored its opponents by a combined 126-96 over the first quarter of their four preseason games, shooting 45-of-84 (.536) in the opening 12 minutes of the contest.

James Harden led the Rockets with another 21 points (7-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, 3-3 FT) in just 17:58 of action tonight. He came into this game scoring exactly 21 points in each of his first three preseason appearances. The last NBA player with at least 20 points to score the same total in at least three straight games was New York’s Carmelo Anthony with 36 in three straight outings on 4/7/13, 4/9/13 and 4/11/13.

Donatas Motiejunas came off the bench with 14 points (6-13 FG) and eight boards tonight. Motiejunas set his regular season career best with eight rebounds last season vs. Dallas (3/3/13).

Patrick Beverley added 13 points (4-7 FG), nine rebounds and three assist tonight. His regular season career high in rebounds is seven vs. Dallas (3/3/13). James Harden (11) and Beverley (10) actually combined for 21 fourth-quarter points to help the Rockets fend off a hot-shooting Magic team by a final score of 118-110 last year at Orlando (3/1/13).

Dwight Howard posted a preseason-best three blocked shots tonight, which is his second multi-block game this preseason.

Francisco Garcia, who was 5-of-8 from 3-point range vs. Indiana (10/13/13), recorded 11 points behind a 3-of-5 night from downtown tonight.

E’Twaun Moore, who led a 30-assist night by the Magic with 11 dimes last season against the Rockets at Orlando (3/1/13), finished with a team-high 17 points (8-17 FG) tonight.

Andrew Nicholson, who had 13 points at New Orleans (10/9/13), recorded preseason bests of 15 points (6-8 FG, 3-4 3FG) and nine boards tonight.

Arron Afflalo finished with 13 points (6-13 FG) tonight, marking his second double-figure scoring game this preseason. He also had 14 points vs. Cleveland (10/11/13).

Maurice Harkless added 10 points (4-10 FG) tonight. He has now scored in double figures four times during the preseason, including a preseason-high 16 points at Dallas (10/14/13).