The Houston Rockets have gotten off to a nice 3-1 start this preseason, and several strong performances from key players have led the charge. There have been some poor performances along the way, though, and head coach Kevin McHale will have to straighten out his inconsistent players before the regular season gets under way.
Houston started Week 2 with a 107-98 win over the Indiana Pacers in Taipei. The game was never a tight one, but Indiana did make a significant push in the third quarter. Houston's ability to close out games during the regular season will be a key to their success.
There were other great performers outside of Harden, and it will be the role players who make the difference in Houston this season. Harden can't do it on his own.
Jeremy Lin only played against the Pacers this week, but he put together a fine performance.
In 35 minutes (which is a lot for a preseason game), he scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He was 3-of-4 from deep and also 2-of-2 from the free-throw line. He added four assists, three steals and even a block for good measure.
Lin is one of the most important players on the Rockets this year. They'll go as far as he takes them, and they need him to produce from Day 1. He has put up strong numbers this preseason, and his team's confidence in him will help him to have confidence in himself.
His style of play and overall production have a lot to do with that confidence level, so getting him going early on is a great sign for Houston. Lin may be a winner in this case, but the team as a whole is the real winner.
Greg Smith played just three minutes this week. Even with Marcus Camby and Omer Asik out, Kevin McHale still hasn't tried to get Smith into the lineup.
The coach has gone with Dwight Howard and Donatas Motiejunas at center and Terrence Jones and Omri Casspi at power forward. If that's any indication of his faith in Smith, it's safe to say that he probably doesn't have any left.
Smith likely won't see much playing time at the start of the season, especially with the minimal minutes he's received thus far. It wouldn't be right to thrust him into action without giving him ample minutes to prepare himself.
He could step up if there's an injury to some key guys during the regular season, but it seems like McHale likes his roster's versatility enough to shy away from using him.
Patrick Beverley took just three shots in 22 minutes against the Pacers, but he assumed a much more proactive role in the offense against the Magic. He produced well when he did.
In 26 minutes, he scored 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He was 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, which is impressive for a guy not known as a deep threat. Perhaps the most impressive statistic was that he grabbed nine rebounds, including six offensive ones.
This type of play will get him regular minutes off the bench this season. He hustles on the glass and has shown the ability to score when his jumper is working. He plays above-average defense and won't be outworked.
Lin is the unquestioned starter at point guard, but Beverley could see close to equal minutes to that of his counterpart.
Robert Covington played a total of 16 minutes this week, but he failed to make a positive impression on the coaching staff. If anything, he made a negative one.
Seeing his first real action in the NBA during the past two weeks, he has had problems adjusting. He was just 1-of-7 from the floor this week and 0-of-3 from deep. He was thought to be another perimeter wingman for the Rockets when they signed him as an undrafted free agent, but he'll need to prove that to the coaches before he sees any significant playing time.
Covington will be given more opportunities in the preseason to work on his shot and get acquainted to the league, so he could end up being a winner next week. For now, though, he was anything but.
The big forward has a great touch on the perimeter and will play a role in Houston this season. It's all a matter of him figuring it out.
Donatas Motiejunas is starting to separate himself from the pack at power forward. With strong performances by him and poor performances by his teammates, he keeps inching closer and closer to earning the starting role.
He averaged 20.5 minutes per game this week, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds per. He shot 10-of-21 overall. His 2-of-8 from deep needs work, but Motiejunas isn't expected to kill the opposition with shots around the perimeter. Anything he hits from there is an added bonus.
The biggest question surrounding him now is his toughness in the paint. He may be the best scoring option of the bunch at power forward, but there are better options for rebounding and defense. Whether it's his aggressiveness or lack of skill around the basket, he'll need to work harder down low if he wants to start full time.
Terrence Jones was considered the front-runner at power forward after a great showing in the Orlando Summer League, but his terrible performances this preseason may have changed his standing with the coaches.
Donatas Motiejunas has outplayed him in nearly every facet of the game. Jones played 23.5 minutes per game this week, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds per. He shot just 1-of-8 from the floor against the Pacers and followed that up with a 3-of-7 showing against the Magic.
Offensive inefficiency is never a way to earn a spot in the starting lineup, and Jones is going through a bit of a learning curve right now in terms of scoring. If he can get it together in the final games of the preseason, maybe McHale will attempt to ride the hot hand into the regular season.
If not, look for Houston to go with the more consistent Motiejunas out of the gate.