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Preseason Game Preview: Spurs vs. Rockets

The Spurs host Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets in their last game of the preseason on Thursday.

Scott Halleran

San Antonio Spurs vs Houston Rockets

AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
October 24, 2013, 7:00 PM Spurs Time

Ever since Yao Ming's body decided no human being should be that big, the Houston Rockets have been an afterthought in Texas basketball. If the three professional franchises were siblings, Houston would've been the dorky-looking one that gets picked last and never gets the girl. That's all changed now that a disgruntled Dwight Howard has joined James Harden, who came gift-wrapped from OKC last year, over in H-Town. Equipped with one of the best scoring guards in the league and arguably the best center in the league, the Rockets are no longer the awkward middle sibling that the Spurs and the Mavericks can push around.

And even though it's the final preseason game and the Spurs are locked and loaded for the regular season, it'll be interesting to watch the matchups in this game if both coaches decide to give significant run for their top players. The Rockets have many more question marks than the tried-and-true Spurs. Even the questions that the Spurs do have going into the regular season (backup point guard, rotation at small forward behind Leonard) are questions that will linger well into the season because that's how Popovich likes it.

Cory Joseph will enter the season as the backup point guard, with Patty Mills and Nando De Colo waiting in the wings in case the former Texas Longhorn can't spell Tony Parker to Pop's liking. Thus far, Patty Mills has outplayed Nando De Colo and should get minutes in the regular season even if Joseph is an adequate backup to Parker. We all know that Kawhi Leonard is the man at small forward, and I think we see an increased role for the budding star this season as Pop looks to take scoring pressure off of the Big Three. Behind Leonard, the question marks seem to be so big that the Spurs will likely use Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli to spell him while turning to a three-guard lineup that may prove to be a defensive liability.

Outside of that, we know what the Spurs are, and that's fantastic news for a fan base that's still working to get over last year's Finals. There is no need to add grease to a wheel that isn't squeaking.

The same cannot be said for the Houston Rockets, where head coach Kevin McHale is driving a whole new bus this season. Houston has been able to experiment with lineups during the preseason, and has used Patrick Beverley at the starting point guard with Jeremy Lin coming off of the bench. It's a small sample size that may be unfair, but in 365 minutes on the court last season, the combination of Beverley and Harden outscored opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, while in 2,200 minutes on the court, the duo of Lin and Harden only outscored opponents by just 2.2 points per 100 possessions. Again, that's a skewed stat based on situations and the amount of minutes, but it shows why McHale may want to bring Lin off of the bench.

The biggest question for the Rockets entering the season is how well Dwight Howard and Omer Asik can play together. Asik has been the topic of many trade rumors, but as he gets healthy his presence next to Howard will give the Rockets a very formidable frontcourt for the 2013-14 season.

The Rockets have some strong pieces around the two big men and Harden, including Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, as well as young, talented players like Terrence Jones and Isaiah Canaan coming off the bench. But the storyline for Houston in this preseason game and beyond is how McHale figures out the best way to use a slashing guard like Harden with two monsters in the middle. It's likely a process that will extend well into the season.

In this game, we'll likely see a lot of garbage minutes by the guys deep on each team's bench as the two prepare for the upcoming regular season, but it'll be interesting to see how each team goes about matching up early in this game.

The matchups to watch include how San Antonio defends Houston when/if Howard and Asik are in the game at the same time, as well as what lineups Popovich uses when Leonard is on the bench.

Prediction: The Rockets probably play its starters longer and harder, so the edge has to go that way, but the final score matters very little to either team at this point.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher. This game will be on TNT, but NBA League Pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.

Get your San Antonio Spurs tickets here!

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