Spurs-Rockets Preview: Rockets boast frontcourt depth

After sweeping their opening two-game home stand with double-digit wins over the Memphis LSGrizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers, the San Antonio Spurs (2-0) take their revitalized defensive team to Houston, Texas against their division rival Houston Rockets (0-1) for the Spurs’ first road and back-to-back game of the season.

“It doesn’t matter whose playing well, whose not playing well. It’s always a tough game in the eighties,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan on playing Houston after Wednesday’s victory over the Clippers.

The Spurs saw plenty of the Rockets in the short preseason as each team won a game against each other. But, both games hadn’t been played with the Rockets’ addition of center Samuel Dalembert.

For just arriving at training camp days before the season began, Dalmbert posted an efficient 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, and blocked three shots in 20 minutes against the Orlando Magic on Monday.

The Spurs are coming in rolling as their run-and-gun offense is averaging 105 points in two games while their defense is looking to make a comeback by holding their opponents to an average of 86 points per game.

Guard Manu Ginobili is fresh and healthy once again as he’s leading a Spurs group that features six players averaging double figures with 24 points per game early on. Of those six players, Richard Jefferson is second in scoring as he’s averaging 16.5 points per game while shooting 65% from the field.

It’s hard not to look too much into any of those numbers because it’s only been two games into the season, but the Spurs do look like they’re keeping their attention to detail once again on the defensive end of the floor.

Here are the projected starting lineups for both squads.

San Antonio Spurs (2-0)

Starting Five Backcourt Wings Frontcourt Injured/Inactive
PG Tony Parker James Anderson Kawhi Leonard Tiago Splitter Gary Neal
SG Manu Ginobili T.J. Ford Danny Green Matt Bonner
SF Richard Jefferson Cory Joseph
PF Tim Duncan
C DeJuan Blair

Houston Rockets (0-1)

Starting Five Backcourt Wings Frontcourt Injured/Inactive
PG Kyle Lowry Courtney Lee Terrence Williams Samuel Dalembert Patrick Patterson
SG Kevin Martin Goran Dragic Jeff Adrien Marcus Morris Hasheem Thabeet
SF Chase Budinger Jonny Flynn Chandler Parsons
PF Luis Scola
C Jordan Hill

Analyzing the Chess Board

Backcourt: The Spurs need to focus on point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard Kevin Martin for starters. Tony Parker is allowing the game to come to him by averaging 14 points and eight assists per game, but he must be ready on defense as Lowry is an active scoring guard who likes to drive but also shoot the long-range ball. Lowry got his teammates involved in Monday’s loss to Orlando with 12 assists while also leading them in scoring with 20 points.

Ginobili might see a mixture of Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger defending him along with Courtney Lee off the bench and possibly Terrence Williams. The Rockets don’t have a perimeter defensive stopper so Ginobili should be able to continue to produce effectively on both sides of the ball. On defense, he’ll have to keep an eye on Martin when Martin is floating on the perimeter, as Martin is known for taking long-range shots.

James Anderson is embracing the sixth man role and producing with it as he’s averaging 10.5 points off of the bench. Houston has it’s own sixth man in Courtney Lee whose coming off a 15-point game against Orlando. Lee is an active mid range shooter who can also hit shots from distance. Goran Dragic has been quiet as of late but the Spurs franchise will always remember that he can instantly light up the building if given the opportunity to get hot. T.J. Ford will have to stay alert with Dragic while also continuing to flourish in the backup point guard role.

The Wing: The Richard Jefferson that has shown up in the first two games seems to be pressure free as he’s now averaging 10 shots per game early on. When Jefferson catches the ball he’s just letting it fire and somethingnew I’ve observed two games in is Jefferson’s ability to catch the ball off of a curl screen and immediately pull up for the jumper, similar to the way Ray Allen does it with the Boston Celtics and Reggie Miller used to do it with the Indiana Pacers. Budinger is much more of a player who crashed boards but he can shoot the ball from distance.

The Rockets also utilize the play of Terrence Williams off of the bench, Williams has an all around game from driving to shooting three’s,Williams shot 12 times for Houston in Monday’s game. Rookie Kawhi Leonard will be seeing some time on Williams as he continues to learn the ins and outs of the NBA.

The Frontcourt: The Rockets will be the first team the Spurs face this season with a good amount of frontcourt depth, as they will start with Luis Scola and Jordan Hill, then bring Dalembert and Marcus Morris (who had a 15-point second quarter against the Spurs in the preseason) off of the bench. The Rockets will mainly be rotating Hill and Dalembert to play alongside Scola.

Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, and Matt Bonner will have more traditional big men to defend as opposed to the high flyer-athletic big men they just faced in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. A key area where the Spurs’ big men will need to pay attention to is the pick-and-pop with Luis Scola. He shot from 10-18 feet nine times against Orlando and is highly efficient at that elbow jumper. Rotations will need to be quick with the frontline in contesting each of Scola’s shots.

Behind Enemy Lines

This looks like it will be another classic Spurs-Rockets grind it out game as Duncan predicts because Houston has a frontline that presents a much better chance of deterring the Spurs’ frontcourt.

The Spurs will win the game if the backcourt of Ginobili, Parker, Jefferson, and Anderson continue to produce, as the Rockets don’t really have a strong unit on the perimeter that can stop them.

If the Spurs limit turnovers and use their speed to get past Houston’s big men, then the Spurs should be looking to start the season at 3-0 by the end of the night.

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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