Cover Story: Rockets' New Age Includes Twin Towers, Twin Minis Experiments

It's been 30 years since the Rockets put two seven-footers on the floor at the same time. Those two, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, led the Rockets to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics, a team that included current Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Now McHale is tinkering with a twin towers lineup of his own that includes newly acquired center Dwight Howard and last year's surprise, Omer Asik.

On one hand, it creates serious mismatches for teams. On the other hand, it does that for the Rockets too, so it is hard to know yet whether it will work.

Skeptics believe neither is quick enough to guard smaller power forwards and because they are so used to playing close to the basket, they could clog the paint. The advantage the 1986 Rockets had was that Sampson, despite being seven-foot-four, was incredibly athletic. In fact, he preferred to operate outside the paint, facing up on defenders far more often than working with his back to the basket.

But for the Rockets, the problems likely won't come on the offensive end with two bigs down low. Howard is comfortable in the post and Asik isn't much of an offensive threat. The difficulties will be finding appropriate match-ups on the defensive end.

This past Monday, they tried it for the first time against the Dallas Mavericks, but with Dirk Nowitzki at power forward, spacing and defense became an immediate issue. It was quickly abandoned in favor of something I like to call "twin minis."

One of the big discussions this offseason and through the preseason has been who would start at the point guard, Jeremy Lin or Patrick Beverley. Each brings an assortment of skills to the table, but neither has everything you want in a big-time one. So maybe the answer is to play both.   Thus far in the preseason, putting both guards on the floor together has been extremely effective. Lin is able to play off the ball, run pick and rolls and dish in traffic, all strengths, while Beverley spreads the floor and antagonizes opposing point guards, certainly his best attributes. Because they are both above-average rebounders for their size, particularly Beverley, and because there is rarely a team that features two all-star offensive talents in the backcourt, expect to see a lot of this pairing throughout the season.

As for the power forward spot, for now it is just an experiment, but the number of unique and interesting lineups the Rockets can put on the floor this year is impressive; they'll just have to figure out what works and what doesn't quickly with the season opener just a week away.

This week's cover story is my Rockets season preview. It explains how these current players have a chance to have real success on and off the floor, answers some pressing questions and gives predicted win totals and featured match-ups for every month of the season. Read it and be sure to pick up a copy as well.

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