Ready or not, Rockets and Spurs set to start preseason

Friday December 16, 2011 5:40 PM

Ready To Roll

Rockets set to take on Spurs in preseason opener

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - Ready or not, preseason basketball is set to begin.

After a whirlwind and frequently frenzied week of training camp, the Rockets are set to tip-off a truncated exhibition schedule with a home-and-home series against the San Antonio Spurs, beginning with Saturday night’s matchup at Toyota Center.

Head Coach Kevin McHale is anxious to see how his club performs in an actual game environment and eager to get a gauge on how far his players have come – and how far they still must go.

There is any number of fascinating subplots to pay heed to heading into tomorrow’s game: storylines such as the development of big men Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet; the growth of training camp standout Terrence Williams; and the debut of rookie Marcus Morris. All figure to get ample playing time tomorrow night, though McHale did mention that he plans to keep his rotation tighter than one might typically see in an initial preseason game due to the fact that the Rockets’ regular season opener is a mere 10 days away.

Also worth watching: the depth the Rockets enjoy at the point guard position. By now Rockets fans should be well-acquainted with Kyle Lowry, who blossomed in his first season as a starter last year while especially coming on strong down the stretch when he averaged almost 20 points and more than 8 assists and 5 rebounds per game during the month of March – all while draining nearly 43 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.

But while Lowry is a known quantity in these parts, the same cannot necessarily be said of Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn. Dragic arrived on the scene in late February following Houston’s trade deadline deal with Phoenix and immediately impressed with his new team. Like Lowry, Dragic saved his best for last, nearly recording a triple-double on two separate occasions in April before finally accomplishing the feat on the final night of the season.

Flynn, meanwhile, has yet to suit up for Houston since he was acquired in a draft night deal with Minnesota back in June. The sixth overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft, Flynn’s career ascent has thus far been slowed by injuries and a less than ideal fit in the triangle offense previously employed by the Timberwolves. But watch Flynn practice and one can certainly see flashes of the lottery-level talent he possesses, so the Rockets are eager to see what the Syracuse product can do now that he’s fully healthy and sure to see more of the pick-and-roll situations he feasted on in college.

“That’s my game,” says Flynn. “Coming out of college at Syracuse, we ran pick-and-rolls and you look at the NBA game, 80 percent of it is pick-and-rolls to post-up, so I think with Coach McHale and the guys we have – Kyle, myself, Dragic, even Kevin Martin and Terrence Williams – everybody is capable of creating off pick-and-rolls and making something happen. Coach McHale is putting us in a great position to do that.

“I’m feeling great … 100 percent better than last year. Just running, side movements, jumping, not feeling fatigue in that one spot of my leg and hip joint – so I’m feeling great.”

Dragic, too, is feeling much better physically these days, having recovered from a sprained ankle he suffered while playing overseas during the offseason. He said Friday was the first day he was able to practice completely pain-free since sustaining the injury, leaving him confident in his ability to build off the strong finishing kick he enjoyed a season ago and to carry out McHale’s mandate that he play fast, cut down on turnovers and provide solid defense.

“I was feeling free (when he arrived in Houston last season), just playing basketball like in the backyard back home with my friends. When you feel more relaxed, you can do more.

“We are focusing more on defensive end (this year), to be more solid on defense and then just try to run to make some easy baskets. I think this year we’re going to be more of a defensive team than last year.”

With such depth at the point guard position, someone is likely to be on the short end of the stick minutes-wise when the regular season begins should the Rockets’ roster maintain the status quo. Make no mistake, both Dragic and Flynn are extreme competitors who will fight tooth and nail to earn time on the floor. Both, however, are also team-first guys whose No. 1 priority is to help Houston win. And no matter how the depth chart develops, both know they are better for having the opportunity to go head-to-head day-in and day-out on the Toyota Center practice court.

“You just want to push each other,” says Flynn. “Going against a bulldog like Kyle, going up against a bigger guard like Goran, you see the best of both worlds. To go against these guys everyday, they’re pushing me and my job is to push them and I think we’re doing a great job excelling and making our team better.”

Dragic agreed with that assessment completely, essentially echoing his teammate’s sentiment: “Every practice is a battle and when you have a stronger opponent you can play at a higher level. I think my game can improve playing every day against those two guys and that’s only a good thing for me.”

And 1s: Due to on-going downtown construction, fans attending tomorrow night’s 7:00 p.m. Rockets game may experience slight delays getting to Toyota Center.  Traffic detours will be posted at the corner of LaBranch and Rusk streets as those roads will be closed to traffic for the weekend beginning on Friday 12/16/11 at 10:00 p.m.

Toyota Center patrons are advised to use Caroline street and turn onto Leeland in order to access Toyota Center.

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