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Into The Stratosphere

Rockets' attack goes into overdrive during second half of preseason win over Spurs

HOUSTON - Instant analysis and observations from Houston’s 109-92 win over San Antonio Thursday night:

- It never ceases to amaze how a change of scenery and ideal fit can completely transform the way we view certain players. The Spurs have been a shining example of that sort of extreme makeover for years, as seen from the tremendous success they’ve had with former cast-offs such as Danny Green, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw (to name but a few). But the Rockets have enjoyed plenty of profit themselves from similar reclamation projects and it looks like they may very well have another feel-good story on their hands judging from the revitalized play of Omri Casspi.

Casspi’s preseason performance has already generated plenty of (deserved) electronic ink, but it still remains remarkable to see how his relocation to Houston has helped him rediscover the various aspects of his game that had gone missing amid a couple of spoiled seasons elsewhere. His terrific shooting stands out, of course, but hot streaks come and go which is why it’s been just as impressive to see the way he relentless rebounds the ball and runs the floor in transition. Those two attributes will take him far on this team, even on those nights when his perimeter stroke isn’t quite as wet as it’s been this month. Of course, there was no such shooting slump to be seen from Casspi Thursday night, as he continued his torrid preseason play by pouring in 16 points off the bench, aided in large part by his 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.

- Speaking of impacting the game in a positive way despite struggling to find the bottom of the net, Jeremy Lin had his second consecutive rocky shooting night but, just as he did Monday against the Mavs, he still found myriad ways to contribute throughout by persistently pushing the pace and continuing to aggressively attack the basket. There were times last season, by his own admission, when a slow shooting start might be enough to dull Lin’s overall aggressiveness. But Thursday night he never allowed his foot to slide off the accelerator and the end result was another solid stat line that included 11 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, a steal and four trips to the free throw line in 23 minutes of play.

- Please don’t mistake my glossing over of the first half of tonight’s game as that being some sort of indictment of its relative importance. It certainly mattered and there were some definite talking points worth discussing such as the turnover bugaboo that bit Houston badly early on, the continued solid and steady play of Chandler Parsons whose play hasn’t been discussed nearly enough this preseason precisely because it is so solid and steady, the energy and pace put forth by the Rockets’ second unit, and also the way Houston’s supersized lineup effectively closed off the paint and forced San Antonio – and Tim Duncan, in particular – into a bevy of midrange and perimeter jumpers.

But let’s be honest: The third quarter show the Rockets put on is all anyone is really going to be talking about tomorrow. Know a disbeliever who’s not yet convinced Houston can be a legit title contender? Show them the first nine minutes of the period on a continuous loop. Already on the bandwagon? Then fire up the DVR and immerse yourself in pure, unadulterated basketball bliss.

Put simply, the Rockets went into Miami mode the moment the second half began. They forced turnovers, raced the floor and overwhelmed San Antonio with the sheer enormity of talent they have at their disposal. For Rockets fans, it was the culmination of everything they hoped this team would be when fantasizing about the potential pairing of Dwight Howard and James Harden this summer. For the rest of the NBA, however, it must have been at least mildly terrifying to witness. 

Howard dunked everything in sight and snagged every board. Harden turned into the human torch, hitting shots of increasing absurdity while brilliantly setting up his teammates for scores as well. They were dynamic, dominant and unstoppable, and they most definitely did everything in their power to make the NBA execs who voted them the best at their respective positions this week look like they knew exactly what they were doing when they filled in their ballots. The duo combined to score 24 points in the period on 10-of-13 shooting while helping to turbocharge their team to a 34-14 run to start the quarter. A close game became a blowout in an instant. Their final lines: Harden racked up 22 points, 11 assists and 3 steals while Howard dropped a double-double performance as well with 15 points, 16 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.

For the past two seasons, we’ve watched time and time again as the Heat have used their transcendent talent to generate that one mesmerizing and hypnotic show of force on a near nightly basis that’s capable of transforming tightly-contested tilts into laughers. That’s what Houston did tonight. Yes, it’s just the preseason. And though San Antonio is to be respected in any and all situations, it’s true they played without the resting Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili this evening. When the regular season starts next week and the standings by every team’s name read '0-0' tonight’s eye-opening sequence of events will be a distant memory. But if in fact this team does go on to accomplish great things, those who watched tonight will be able to say with no trace of hyperbole or doubt that this was when they knew for certain that these Rockets could truly be something special.

See you tomorrow night in Memphis for the preseason finale.