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We Have Lift-Off

October 10, 2012 11:59 pm EDT

Rockets kick off preseason in style, top Thunder 107-105

HOUSTON - Forget about the fact the Rockets won their preseason opener Wednesday night. Sure, it’s always better to emerge victorious than to end up on the losing end, especially when the win comes at the expense of the defending Western Conference champs from Oklahoma City.

But big picture, ending up on the right side of the scoreboard following the first preseason game of the season is about as meaningful as a politician’s promises on election day; it produces some positive vibes for a short while, but those warm fuzzies fade pretty quickly once reality reasserts itself.

So what sort of meaningful facts can be gleaned from Houston’s 107-105 victory? To begin that process, take a look at the Rockets’ roster and start counting the positive performances one by one. In so doing, it quickly becomes clear that at least two hands will be required to keep track of the evening’s standouts, and it’s that realization which serves as a splendid launching pad for determining that, yeah, the young Rockets had themselves a pretty nice debut performance Wednesday night.

The starting five looked strong, hanging step-for-step with the Thunder’s stars despite Russell Westbrook’s nuclear detonation that resulted in 16 first quarter points. Kevin Martin and Omer Asik, in particular, stood out, building upon their sparkling training camp showing with the sort of performances that serve to simply confirm that all the glowing words which have been written about them over the course of the past week have been absolutely deserved.

Martin was back to his devastatingly efficient self, dropping in an easy 11 points in nine minutes of action, shooting 3-4 from the field while getting to the line four times during that stretch. If you’re familiar with Martin’s uber-efficient game, you know how huge his regular trips to the free throw line are, and how vital it is for him to live there this season.

As for Asik, the man was simply beastly: Nine points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in just 17 minutes of play. He repeatedly outraced everyone down the floor and supplied his usual “world class” defense (that’s McHale’s description of Asik’s defensive skill) at the other end. For fans just now becoming familiar with his game, please understand this isn’t an anomaly. The offensive output likely won’t be this high on a regular basis (he’s not going to average 18 points per 35 minutes played), but the 26-year-old is country strong, has great instincts and never, ever takes plays off. It’s been said in this space before and will likely be said many more times over the course of the season: Asik might not be the Rockets’ best player this year, but he may very well be its most important. He’s that good and he’s that indispensible to what Houston wants to do.

The of course there were the rookies and that brings us to, goodness gracious, Terrence Jones. The Kentucky product had a solid first half, but it was his jaw-dropping, don’t-blink-or-you-might-miss-something-spectacular stretch during the final two minutes of the third quarter that left fans drooling in delight. It started with a slam, was followed by a sweet reverse layup in transition and then punctuated with an emphatic exclamation point that consisted of a block at one end and a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the other. When the dust settled, Jones had 20 points on 8-14 shooting, six rebounds (five offensive) and a block in 25 eye-opening minutes.

All this and we haven’t yet touched on Jones’ fellow rookie Jeremy Lamb (12 points, eight rebounds), Toney Douglas (seven assists and five boards), Chandler Parsons (10 points, three rebounds, two dimes) or Jeremy Lin (six assists, three steals). Up to this point there’s been no mention of the fact the Rockets dominated OKC on the glass, outrebounding them 49-38 while racking up a whopping 21 rebounds on the offensive glass (though, to be fair, the Thunder played without Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka – only OKC’s two best bigs). And we still haven’t had a chance to mention the way the Rockets’ starters set the tone by staying true to their training camp philosophy, pushing the pace at every opportunity – even after Oklahoma City makes. More of that, please (the coaching staff probably won’t be so polite with their request).

So, yes, the Rockets’ 2012 preseason debut can be considered a success, but it has very little to do with the game’s outcome. Houston came into camp with countless questions to be answered; queries about chemistry and rotations and attempts to figure out just what they have in terms of their young talent. Wednesday night we got a few answers. Let the warm fuzzies ensue (at least until Friday night).  

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(opening thoughts)

There was some good stuff. I thought we had some carry over from what we were doing on both offense and defense. I feel like it was like a lot of exhibition games; we were  little tired in spots and the ball got a little draggy and we didn’t get too many stops and had too many turnovers and not enough ball movement. I thought defensively we had a few breakdowns but overall you could see what we had been working on and we transferred that over to the game.

We wanted to get some pace in the game and I thought we did at times we pushed it pretty good but we got tired. It’s a start. We’ve been together for about a week … we’ve got lots of stuff to clean up and still have a lot of work to do. It was kind of what I expected for the first exhibition game.  

(on Terrence Jones)

He’s got a good nose for the ball. He’s got a good feel for tracking balls down, he runs, he knows how to get open, he’s got very good hands – he’s just a good, solid player.

 (on Jeremy Lin)

I thought Jeremy had a good stint. I thought he had a couple times where he probably should have shot it and tried passing it instead trying to be unselfish. But I thought Jeremy was pretty solid overall. I mean Russell Westbrook made some tough shots over a hand up and good defense – that doesn’t bother me too much.

(on what he’s learned about his team so far)

That they’re a good group of guys. They’re going to work hard. They try to do what you ask them to do. They’re a hard working group of young guys which they better be because they’re so young. We’re not going to beat people on flat-out talent and experience; we’ve got to beat them with energy and effort.

TERRENCE JONES

I just wanted to carry over what we’re doing through training camp and practice, and just try to carry that over to the game.

(on whether he was nervous heading into his first NBA game)

It was crazy. For it to be my first game, it was exciting. I was just nervous pretty much the whole first half.