New York Knicks vs. Houston Rockets: What to Watch For
February 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Eastern Conference forward Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks (7) shakes hands with Western Conference guard James Harden of the Houston Rockets (13) before the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

**UPDATE: Joakim Noah (hamstring) and Lou Amundson (back) will not play in New York’s preseason opener vs. Houston.**

Preseason basketball shouldn’t give fans much to worry about, but with so many moving parts this summer, the New York Knicks have much to straighten out in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 25 regular season-opener at Cleveland.

The Knicks open the preseason at the Toyota Center against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

New York signed Jeff Hornacek as head coach and flipped its roster this summer in an effort to ‘win now’. The Knicks are poised to rebound from a three-season playoff drought that included a franchise-worst 17-65 record two seasons ago.

The Rockets parted ways with All-Star center Dwight Howard over the summer and have put talent (Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nene) and a genius offensive mind as head coach (Mike D’Antoni) to build around the franchise centerpiece, James Harden.

Here are a few things to look for in Tuesday night’s opener against Houston:


Knicks
D. Rose | C. Lee | C. Anthony | K. Porzingis | J. Noah
B. Jennings | L. Thomas | K. O’Quinn | S. Vujacic | M. Plumlee
M. Ndour | J. Holiday | W. Hernangomez | M. Kuzminskas
L. Amundson | J.P. Tokoto | C. Randle | R. Baker

Rockets
P. Beverley | J. Harden | T. Ariza | R. Anderson | C. Capela
E. Gordon | Nene | C. Brewer | K.J. McDaniels | S. Dekker
M. Harrell | P. Prigioni | T. Ennis | G. Payton II | C. Onuaku
P.J. Hairston | B. Brown | K. Wiltjer | I. Taylor


Minutes and Rotations

It’s almost a pre-season norm for starters to play only the first and third quarters. That means New York’s bench will have an entire half of basketball to fend for themselves on the court.

The Knicks retained Lance Thomas (four years, $28.5 million) and brought in Brandon Jennings (one year, $5 million) to bolster the back court. New York also added front court depth by signing 2015 second-rounder Willy Hernangomez, undrafted center Marshall Plumlee, international forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Maurice Ndour.

 

Both former Knicks coaches Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis struggled to establish a consistent rotation last year. As a result, New York finished 32-50 while the relationship between coach and players began to wither.

Hornacek must use these pre-season games to learn which eight- or nine-man rotation he will rely on come Oct. 25.

Learning Curve

Hornacek said he wants to “blend” the Triangle Offense with the up-tempo offense he ran in Phoenix. That means he wants to play aggressive defense to lead to early offense, while settling into the Triangle in half court sets.

Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle O’Quinn, Sasha Vujacic, Lou Amundson and Thomas are the only players remaining from last season’s roster who are familiar with the offense.

The Triangle is a read-and-react offense, so it may take some time for the new guys to grasp it.

Defense

With James Harden playing the “points guard” and D’Antoni orchestrating the show in Houston, the Rockets could have one of the NBA’s most high-octane offenses.

That means the Knicks defense has one of the toughest challenges to open the pre-season. Last season, New York surprisingly ranked in the top 10 (10th) in opponent points per game, but had visible issues defending opposing back courts.

The Knicks were one of the worst teams defending the pick-and-roll last season and will be tested against the screen-heavy Rockets on Tuesday.

With Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah, along with Thomas coming off the bench as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders, keeping Houston under 105 points could be deemed a victory.

Derrick Rose

Rose said he wants to find ways to play off of both Porzingis and Anthony and spoke of running pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays as both the ball-handler and the screener.

But he also said his teammates have encouraged him to be aggressive and attack basket, as it opens up advantageous opportunities for his teammates.

Rose has also spent time working on his three-point shot and will likely give his perimeter jumper a go throughout the preseason.

If he looks anywhere near his 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player form, Rose’s play could give New York its best crack at making the post-season.

Kristian Winfield covers the New York Knicks for Elite Sports NY. You can start the conversation on Twitter @Krisplashed.

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