Four Knee-Jerk Reactions From Houston’s Preseason Opener

James Harden and Chandler Parsons

The preseason is almost meaningless and it’s ridiculous to draw any real conclusions after just one worthless contest.

So hey, let’s give it a shot!

Ariza is going to fit nicely

Trevor Ariza looked very good in his first game back with the Rockets. His shot looked strong (5-7 from the field) and he didn’t force the action. We know he’s a defensive upgrade to Chandler Parsons, but if he can knock down the three-point shot at a high clip (and he hit 41% last year), he may fit just as well if not better all the way around.

People need to remember — this is not about who is the better player, which can be debated. It’s about fit and their respective roles. Ariza replaced a role player in Chandler Parsons in Houston and he will be a role player in Houston. Chandler Parsons was paid like a superstar in Dallas and will be expected to play like a superstar in Dallas.

Big difference. We’ll see how Chandler manages expectations in Dallas, but for half the price, the Rockets got a good fit for their starting lineup.

Harden is going to have a career year

It was humbling to hear James Harden admit that he loses focus at times on the defensive end. That’s very rare to see from a superstar — it’s like the Homecoming King admitting he doesn’t know what to say around girls — but I still take it with a grain of salt. After all, Harden talked about wanting to be a lockdown defender in 2013’s training camp.

But offensively? He’s going to explode this year. Harden scored 17 points in under 24 minutes and got to the line for nine free throws Tuesday night. The Rockets let go of Parsons, who took the second-most shot attempts on the squad last season at nearly 14 per game, so the team will rely more than ever on Harden to carry the load. On top of that, the experience as one of Team USA’s leaders seemed to be a very positive one for Harden.

Assuming good health, I expect Beard to be a scoring machine for the Rockets this year.

The Rockets will need power forward help

Terrence Jones had a bad game Tuesday night. No big deal. There are nights he looks like Tarzan and nights he looks like Jane.

But this is the position where the Rockets really could make a big jump with an upgrade. Kevin McHale is on record as saying this team didn’t rebound the ball very well last year (1:35 mark) and if they had rebounded better, they would have been a top 10 defense. Jones has strengths — he’s athletic, he can block shots, handle the ball and run the floor — but the Rockets don’t have enough weapons to just outscore teams every night. If he (and Donatas Motiejunas) don’t grow quickly to the point of being able to handle pick-and-roll defense, defend strong fours and rebound the basketball when Dwight Howard goes for blocks, there’s going to be change here.

David West probably wants out of Indiana, but if I’m Daryl Morey right now, I’m checking in with the Hawks twice a day on Paul Millsap.

Houston’s bench is going to need time or change

There are question marks all over the Rockets’ bench.

Motiejunas looked very good Tuesday night (team-high 18 points), but he was posting up stiff Charlie Villanueva much of the time. My two favorite players for the bench — rookies Kostas Papanikolaou and Nick Johnson — may be more seasoned and experienced in the leagues they are coming from (EuroLeague and NCAA), but it always takes time to adjust to the NBA. My money was on Troy Daniels playing a significant role this year, and that may be the case, but he didn’t see action until late in this game. It remains to be seen on Jason Terry, who is 37 years old and has not had much of an impact the last two years. The team has been happy with Ish Smith in camp, but he can not shoot. Jeff Adrien stepped up in the final minutes, but are the Rockets counting on him to play a role?

When the Rockets take Harden out of the game, who is going to score? The team is fortunate to have unloaded Jeremy Lin, who they paid a lot of money to gobble up these minutes with average play, but it will take some time for roles to be carved out here.

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