In most seasons, NBA pre-season games are basically unwatchable. However this season with the lockout shortening the pre-season to two games, the intensity and importance has been elevated. The Spurs were without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and veteran point guard Tony Parker, but even against back-ups the Rockets needed to play well last night to answer the questions surrounding this team with a new coaching staff and some possibly disgruntled veterans after a blocked trade. Overall you expect players, especially after a lockout to be a little rusty in their first game. Missed defensive assignments, sloppy passes, and bad shooting from beyond the 3-point line are the norm. Here are some thoughts and notes from the game.
Luis Scola - Looks like he's in mid-season form already. Early on he scored the first 6 points for the Rockets on two mid-range jumpers and a bank shot off of a nice dribble-drive. He finished with 20 points on 9-12 shooting in just 22 minutes of play. I'm glad he's still on this team; he works hard, plays hard, and is a great leader. If the Rockets are able to sneak into the playoffs, it'll be on the back of Scola.
Jordan Hill - 17 points on 7-11 shooting and a game high 13 rebounds. Forget the 17 points, if they can get double-digit rebounding out of Hill on a nightly basis, that will be HUGE for this team. I think Hill has a chance to be a solid pro, but we'll have to see him against better competition and in a more meaningful game before determining whether or not he's turned the corner.
Terrence Williams - A guy that spent a lot of time in Adelman's dog house finally showed a glimpse of why the Rockets traded for him, with 14 points on 7-13 shooting and 9 rebounds. That's what I hope Williams can do, be a stat sheet stuffer; be the Rockets Gerald Wallace. He doesn't have to score 20 or grab 10 rebounds or dish out 10 assists, but if he can go for 12 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, and a steal; I'll take it. That's the type of player I thought he'd be coming out of Louisville, hopefully we start to see it on a regular basis.
Rebounding - They dominated the boards last night, winning the battle 56-38. Yes the Spurs didn't have Duncan, but Duncan doesn't make up an 18 rebound advantage. Everyone knows that the Rockets lacked size last year and tried desperately to get some this off-season; they didn't. Hopefully they'll make up for their lack of size by outworking their opponents and beating them to the loose balls. I wouldn't expect them to dominate the boards every night, but it's an encouraging sign and hopefully their new head coach has taught them a few tricks.
Offense - Not that sharp early on, and outside of a Kevin Martin 3-pointer, missed a lot of open looks. That's the key though, they were getting open looks; once they shake off the rust, the shots will start to fall. Overall the offense looked very similar to last season. They ran motion, they set screens, and it doesn't look like McHale changed much. The starting lineup for the Rockets knows the Adelman system really well, they can run it in their sleep. Stability is huge in a shortened season, leaving that in tack I believe is crucial for the Rockets getting off to a good start this season.
Defense - If you only look at the numbers, it was an impressive night. The Spurs shot just 20% in the first half and 35% for the game, but again, Duncan and Parker missed the game. From what I saw, most of the Spurs shooting struggles weren't because the Rockets locked them down, but more that they just missed shots. It seemed like at least half of the Spurs misses in the first half were on wide-open looks; once they're roster is at full strength and in mid-season form, those shots will go down. It was a good night defensively, but I believe they still have a long way to go.
Overall a good night for our Rockets, hopefully they can continue to build on it going into the regular season.