James Harden

Sometimes it feels as if James Harden would be even better if there was no one he actually needed to share the ball with. Without Dwight Howard, he led the Houston Rockets to a 113-93 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the preseason, having no problem standing out and separating himself from the rest of performers on the court.

Harden finished with 21 points on 6-of-12 from the field, also hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. He added 4 assists and was perfect from the line, having no problem making up for Howard’s absence, who sat the game out with a bruised left knee, while Jason Terry, coming for what might be his last season in the NBA considering the downward spiral his production has been in for quite some time, also didn’t get to play in front of a home crowd that until not too long ago couldn’t stand the sight of him.

Terrence Jones had a very good game as well with 15 points, going quite often to the line as the Rockets are hoping to see some more offensive variety from the third-year forward, and also hoping that the presence of Trevor Ariza can influence others, including Harden and Jones, to start putting a bit more of an effort on defense. Having a healthy Howard along with Beverley and Ariza in the lineup makes for a much more formidable defensive unit.

Ariza had another all-inclusive game, doing a little bit of everything. He scored 8 points, adding 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Jeff Adrian started in an ultra-small lineup for the Rockets which worked quite well against the Grizzlies starting five. Except for Adrian, all the other Rockets starters finished with a positive double digit +/- in the game, as teams usually decide whether or not it was a good preseason outing by the way their key players played, not the final result.

Ish Smith with six points and three assists had a decent outing while Tarik Black put on a double double off the bench, finishing with 10 points and 15 rebounds. After a so-so appearance against the Mavericks, this might be the kind of performance that helps the undrafted forward get an NBA contract. Donataj Motiejunas and Kostas Papanikolaou had a much quieter game than in their first preseason appearance.

The Grizzlies had a bad game altogether, especially Gasol and Randolph, combining to shoot just 3-of-10 from the field. Jarnell Stoked with 12 points and Jordan Adams with 11, both playing off the bench, were the best of performers for the team, hoping that no key injuries get in the way of finishing a bit higher up the incredible difficult Western conference hierarchy, which seems to add more contestants for the playoff spots each year.

The Rockets are looking to stand their ground. The early predictions suggest they’ve gotten weaker compared to last season due to the loss of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but maybe with a better defense the combination of James Harden and Dwight Howard, two superstars no matter how you try to twist it, can make up for other weaknesses they have when it comes to depth and the production of other positions.

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