Must be exhausting. Just hours after the first ever NBA game in Manila, the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets each caught red eye flights to Taipei, arriving around about 3am on Friday morning local time. I'll be courtside for the game in Taipei on Sunday, so stay tuned for updates!
Anyway, the Manila game was somewhat of a disappointment for the Pacers as they were crushed by the Rockets 116-96 in a game they never led after giving up the first 12 points of the game. I'm not too concerned as this was a preseason exhibition game with both teams feeling out of sync from the long flights and time difference (not to mention the carry-over exhaustion from training camp), but it's clear the Pacers still have quite a lot of kinks to sort out before the start of the season.
Here are some of my observations from the game.
- The Rockets are going to be a very good team. James Harden is still a superstar and one of the top 10 players in the league, and Dwight Howard is looking very much like the Dwight Howard from his Magic days. He looks strong, athletic, and too much to handle for Big Roy, who was straddled with foul trouble for much of the night. Patrick Beverly started in the place of Jeremy Lin, but Lin will be starting in Taipei (Kevin McHale said the two would continue to switch as he tests lineups in the leadup to the start of the regular season), and both of them looked really good, as did Aaron Brooks and Chandler Parsons. This could be a contending team.
- The Pacers are still a little out of whack on both ends of the court. They don't seem to have overcome one of their biggest problems of last season -- turnovers (they had 19) and gave up a whole bunch of fast break points (26!). Some of these were off turnovers but many were off scored baskets, which is unaccepable. The team also had a problem staying in front of their man 1-on-1 and the help defense was often not rotating quickly enough.
- Individually, Paul George looked really good again. Confident at both ends, he put up a team-high 17 points in a team-high 29 minutes, but he did have 5 turnovers. Gotta clean that up! He's taking strides but he's not at the unstoppable superstar level that James Harden is at right now, as demonstrated throughout the game. Harden pretty much got wherever he wanted on the court last night and even when he was missing he'd find ways to get to the line. That's the direction PG24 needs to head towards.
- The other guy who reallyimpressed me was Luis Scola, who had 10 points and 6 boards in 18 minutes off the bench. Same mold as David West -- solid, tough, reliable. I think this guy could be the key to the Pacers contending for a championship this year.
- Roy Hibbert struggled again tonight with just 6 points on 2-7 shooting in 23 minutes, though he did have 4 blocks. But he was aggressive and didn't back down from Dwight Howard, who had just a little too much quickness for him. I'm sure Roy would like to get him back in Taipei on Sunday, and I'm sure we'll see a much better game from him. However, I think expectations of him ever averaging 15 points a game need to be pared back. He's just not that kind of an offensive player.
- Danny Granger is still not there yet. He was 2-10 from the field and finished with 9 points, missing some wide open jumpers and even a semi-contested layup on the break. Defensively he was also a step slow. But I remain optimistic that he'll continue to work at it and will turn the corner eventually.
- George Hill had 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in another solid performance, but defensively he struggled against the quickness of the Rockets guards, and was even pump-faked for a three-point shooting foul. I think it was probably fatigue more than anything.
- For the second game in a row, Lance Stephenson didn't do a whole lot. He played 12 minutes and took just 2 shots to finish with 4 points.
- CJ Watson is already proving that he is an upgrade over DJ Augustin. He's still learning the system but he looks confident and even knocked down a couple of threes en route to 9 points, and his blazing speed in traffic was a surprise to me.
- Chris Copeland got some minutes tonight (21) but he shot just 1-8 from the field and missed all 4 of his three-point attempts. Again, I wouldn't put too much into it. Fatigue, knee surgery, different time zone, new team mates, all of the above.
- Orlando Johnson looked good in 12 minutes of mostly garbage time and finished with 11 points. I still think there is a place for him in the rotation somewhere.
- I could not remember seeing Ian Mahinmi playing, and the reason is because he played just one minute. Could it be a sign of things to come? My guess is the Pacers decided to play small whenever Dwight Howard wasn't on the floor, otherwise Ian would have gotten some more minutes.
- Donald Sloan, Hilton Armstrong and Rasual Butler all played some garbarge minutes.
To be honest, as happy as I am to be able to see the Pacers live in Taipei, this kind of trip really kills the players' bodies. All these long flights, lack of rest and time differences will no doubt have an effect on the Pacers' preparations for the upcoming season. I just hope it doesn't take them too long to recover.