Man Of The Hour

TAIPEI - Instant analysis and observations from Houston’s 107-98 preseason victory over the Pacers played Sunday in Taipei:

- When the Linsanity documentary eventually comes out on Blu-Ray/DVD, they better include the entirety of tonight’s game in the bonus features section because the Jeremy Lin Taipei saw tonight was just as good as anything J-Lin produced during that magical 6-week stretch with the Knicks.

Lin began the first quarter by swishing a top-of-the-key 3 and ended the period with another triple to beat the shot clock. In between those bombs, the 25-year-old also threw a picture perfect alley-oop pass from half-court to Chandler Parsons for a slam and scored on a ridiculously high degree-of-difficulty floater that he somehow managed to bank in over the outstretched arms of Roy Hibbert, who by that early juncture had already blocked four Rockets shots. 

The second quarter provided more of the same. Lin kicked-started another Rockets run by picking up his second steal of the game and punctuated that play with a slam that sent the crowd – and the Rockets’ bench – into a frenzy. The proceedings then went from fairy tale to downright pinch-me-because-there’s-no-way-this-is-real-life when Lin summoned his inner Dwight Howard by swatting a shot into the stands. By that point, the only thing left for Lin to do was drop the mic and strut off stage. He was, quite simply, just that good while racking up 12 points (on 5-of-6 shooting), 2 assists, 2 boards and 2 steals during a little more than 21 minutes of first half action.

All of which gave added credence to the line of thinking that Lin does have a knack for rising to the occasion. There was undoubtedly a significant amount of pressure on the Palo Alto native coming into tonight’s contest, though I’d argue he was under far more pressure and scrutiny last December when he made his initial return to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks (which just so happened to follow a miserable contest in Toronto that marked Lin’s lowest point of the season). All he did that night in New York was go 9-of-15 from the field while scoring 22 points and dishing 9 assists in a Rockets’ romp.

The most important takeaway from all of this, however: Lin has looked terrific through three games this preseason. His passing is spot-on, his jumper is locked-in, he’s pushed the ball superbly in transition, he’s getting to the free throw line and his defense has improved from what we saw from him a year ago. So regardless of whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, these are huge potential developments as they pertain to Houston’s prospects this season.

- Speaking of which, the Rockets again rolled the Pacers in the first half en route to taking a 15-point lead into the break. Houston went 7-of-13 from beyond the arc, limited Indiana to 34.2 percent shooting from the field, and its starters looked absolutely dominant once more against a very good Indiana squad.

But it wasn’t just Houston’s starting five that deserved all the plaudits; the Rockets got good mileage out of the Lin-Beverley backcourt pairing for a few minutes, and then really went into overdrive when they tossed out a quintet of Lin-Harden-Parsons-Casspi-Howard. Rockets fans no doubt recall that a similar fivesome featuring Carlos Delfino in the Casspi role consistently crushed opponents last season, and Casspi’s scorching start to the preseason could portend positively toward Houston achieving comparable results with just such a lineup in 2013-14. Casspi entered tonight’s game averaging a ridiculous 18.5 points (on 15-of-19 shooting) and 6 rebounds per game through Houston’s first two preseason contests, and played very well once more, finishing with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

- For a good chunk of the second half, fans saw a Houston team that looked like its road weary legs had caught to them; the Pacers like a club with bodies that had finally made the adjustment to Asia time. The Rockets got sloppy in the third quarter, Indiana caught fire from deep, and Indy crawled within two points around the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That’s to take nothing away from the Pacers, though. This is a heck of a team that has every reason to believe they can be better this year than they were a year ago when they took the two-time champs from Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Not road weary, however: Omri Casspi or Francisco Garcia (seeing his first action of the preseason after missing the first two games with a groin strain). Those two turned the fourth quarter into their own personal shooting gallery, combining to score 15 points and knock down four 3s. That Pacers’ surge that trimmed their deficit to 2? Summarily squashed. Thanks to the heroics of Casspi and Garcia, Houston cruised to another impressive win.

Yes, the Rockets have plenty more to work on as they attempt to get themselves in regular season form. But if their starters continue to play the way they have through the first three preseason games, and Garcia and Casspi keep shooting like Larry Bird, Houston will go roughly 82-0 this season. Presumably, things won’t always be this easy.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, everybody. See you back in Houston this Wednesday when the Magic come to town.