Monday night’s game with the Dallas Mavericks will be the first of three games between the Rockets and Mavericks in the next month. Of course Monday’s game, which tips off at 7 p.m. is still a preseason tile, while each of the next two are part of the 82-game regular season.
Both teams are using the preseason to get to know their own personnel. The Mavericks have made wholesale changes to their club, not unlike the Rockets over the last two years with one major difference. They’re not really getting younger and quite possible not getting better. The Mavs slipped to 41-41 last season and missed the playoffs, snapping a streak of 12 consecutive postseason appearances.
They’re expected to have three new starters in the starting line-up, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and former Rockets center Samuel Dalembert. Ellis is entering his ninth season, same for Calderon, while Dalembert starts his 12th NBA season. Dalembert and Calderon are also both 32 years old.
But full analysis on the Mavericks will come when they return on Nov. 1 for each team’s second game of the regular season. The Rockets will get their first look at the Dwight Howard and Omer Asik experiment playing together as they will be in the starting lineup on Monday.
“They’re our two best bigs, so we have to find a way to get them on the court at the same time and get them their minutes,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “It’s still preseason, just trying to adjust things. Tonight’s going to be our first game of actually trying it in a regular game.
“It’s going to be a challenge on both ends.”
Asik will be seeing his first action of the preseason after nursing a calf injury. Maybe just as importantly, Jeremy Lin will return to the starting lineup as well. He’d been sick and even on Monday said he’s still not feeling quite right after returning from their trip to Manila and Taiwan.
The combination of Lin and Beverley at point guard and who will be the starter has generated plenty of discussion, but the idea of them on the floor together is what to watch for Monday. When they go small, it is lineup the coaches want to see. Harden said it’s just another way to provide matchup issues for their opponents because they can give so many different looks now with the players the Rockets have on the roster.
“We have a lot of guys that are versatile that can play different positions. So we’re just trying to see different combinations that work well together,” he said. “It’s preseason, our coaches are doing an unbelievable job of watching film and trying to find different lineups for guy that play well.”
Another player who was signed in the offseason that allows for that is Omri Casspi. Casspi’s entering his fifth NBA season and he’s now with his third NBA team. He has taken the spot vacated by Carlos Delfino and at 6-9, it’s a spot he seems much more capable of holding down on both ends of the floor.
“Omri’s a four. He’s a space four,” Harden said. “He’s done a great job these first couple games in the preseason of making plays on the defensive end and rebounding the basketball.”
“We have to approach these preseason games like they’re real games. Because we don’t have the luxury, like the Spurs or the Heat, where they know what their system is. They know what guys are going to do,” Harden added. “We have a lot of new guys. We’re just trying to figure things out as we go.”