And Away We Go ...

Observations from the Rockets' preseason opener against the Pelicans
by Jason Friedman Writer/Reporter

HOUSTON - With the Rockets jetting off for their eight-day trip to Asia immediately following Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Pelicans, we’re eschewing the standard post-game write-up for a piece documenting some of the noteworthy observations from Houston’s 116-115 loss to New Orleans.

-- James Harden began the game by draining a pair of 3-pointers on his way to starting 4-4 from the field and scoring 10 points in just over 7 minutes. But my favorite play of his during that stretch, by far, was a ridiculous pocket pass to Terrence Jones for a lay-in. It’s remarkable that someone who is, by any measure, one of the league’s most gifted scorers could also be such a talented passer as well. He’s so underrated in that regard, largely because it tends to get overlooked amid his scoring exploits. With a full year in Houston under his belt and the addition of Dwight Howard – one of the game’s preeminent pick-and-roll bigs – Harden’s passing skills will likely be front and center more often. Either way, it’s just great that fans are finally getting to see a glimpse of what we’ve witnessed during various parts of the summer: Harden enters this season looking better than ever. He’s a man on a mission.

-- It won’t make the highlights or stand out in the box score, but you better believe the Rockets loved seeing Dwight Howard beat his man down the floor in the first quarter following a rebound, establish early position and then draw the inevitable foul on the entry pass. It’s pretty simple: the more Houston’s bigs run, the better their offense will be.

-- Jeremy Lin capped a terrific first quarter for Houston’s starting five by hitting Howard on a couple of sweet dishes for easy buckets before showing off his improved perimeter jumper and knocking down a triple. And while J-Lin’s impressive offensive output will surely (and rightfully) attract most of the post-game attention, don’t overlook the fact that his pick-and-roll defense looked much improved, too. He worked his posterior off fighting through screens all night.

-- Speaking of Houston’s point guards, Patrick Beverley opened the second quarter by banking in a floater. He put a ton of work into perfecting that shot this summer, something the early returns confirmed when he hit nothing but the bottom of the net on another floater less than two minutes later.

-- The Rockets ended the first half with a 24-10 advantage in free throw attempts. Expect that to be a season-long theme for Houston with Harden and Howard (Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in free throw attempts per game last season) earning nightly parades to the charity stripe. Appropriately enough, that duo teamed up to produce free throw No. 24 of the half when Harden threaded another gorgeous slip pass to a slicing Howard for an and-1 layup.

-- Terrence Jones enjoyed some awfully impressive moments during his matchup with his former University of Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis. Jones started 4-5 from the field, racking up 10 points and 3 rebounds in his first eight minutes of playing time. Davis is going to be a stud in this league – he’s got the size and skill to be one of the 10 best players in the NBA some day – so seeing it goes without saying that sort of showing from TJ deserves recognition.

-- Patrick Beverley singlehandedly took Jrue Holiday out of the game in the fourth quarter by picking his pocket four, yes four, times in a three-minute span – unquestionably one of the most remarkable sequences of the night, which is saying something given the show put on by Harden, Howard et al. Beverley and Lin are both about the nicest guys you could ever possibly hope to meet but, man, do they possess a propensity for pilfering. In 41 combined minutes of action, Houston’s point guards racked up 7 steals.

-- Dwight who? Omri Casspi turned himself into the human torch in the fourth quarter en route to finishing with 20 points (16 of which came in the final frame) in 21 minutes of play. One can never put too much stock into one game, especially when they’re preseason affairs, but with the Rockets in search of someone to fill the role Carlos Delfino so capably occupied, Casspi’s 9-10 shooting performance made quite a statement.

-- The last word will be devoted to – who else? – Dwight Howard. Some expert analysis for you: the dude is really good. How’s that for insight? Seriously though, Howard did everything the coaches and fans were hoping to see during a preseason opener. He owned the glass, contested every shot imaginable, and proved to be a potent finisher near the rim – in other words: he pretty much showed off all the skills that have made him a seven-time All-Star. Forget about the final score; Houston’s starters dominated nearly every minute they were on the floor, and Howard’s presence played a huge role in that – just as the Rockets and their fans hoped he would when he came to Houston in July. 

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