Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert (right) posts up against David West (left) Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA -- After months of anticipation, basketball-crazy Filipinos will finally get to see their hoops idols in person as the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers face off in the first ever NBA preseason game to be held in the Philippines Thursday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Pacers and the Rockets have been in town since Monday, and have taken part in various NBA Cares events. They also went shopping at the Mall of Asia and Greenhills.
But it is tomorrow's preseason game that has been the talk of the town for months. The hype for the Pacers-Rockets showdown only intensified after Indiana made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in the previous season, and Houston added superstar center Dwight Howard in free agency.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Pacers guard/forward Paul George vowed to put on a show in front of the Filipino fans, who have given both teams a remarkably warm welcome ever since they arrived.
"We're gonna come out and play this game like it's an actual game," said George, last season's Most Improved Player. "We're not gonna come out and play lackadaisical. We want to give the fans a real show and hopefully gain some fan base."
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters earlier that tomorrow's game will be a good chance for them to test themselves against a strong team like the Rockets.
"The Rockets are a championship contender," said Vogel. "Obviously, they had a great season last year, and in the last 12 months they've added two of the best players in the NBA in Dwight Howard and James Harden. It should be an interesting game here."
And Vogel, knowing the passion that Filipinos have for the game of basketball, is expecting an "electric" atmosphere even though it is still just a preseason game that is ultimately meaningless.
"The fanfare here is very exciting. To get to see these two exciting teams come in here, and it's the second preseason game - a lot of times, that's not the most intense type of game," he said. "But I think, with this situation, and with both of these teams with title hopes, and playing in a crowd like we're gonna have here, I think it's gonna be exciting."
Vogel was echoed by Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, who is also expecting a great reception from what should be a sellout crowd at the MOA Arena tomorrow.
"I think what will be fun (for the team) is the exhibition game tomorrow. It will be electric, and there will be a lot of people here," said McHale. "It will be different from a normal exhibition game because the people here will be really into it, so it will be fun."
For the Rockets, it is also a chance to see how their team chemistry has improved, especially with the addition of Howard this season. Tomorrow's game will also allow them to match themselves against one of the top teams in the NBA, considering that the Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and pushed the Miami Heat to the brink.
"Definitely, they're a great team," said Houston guard James Harden. "This last couple of years, they've stamped themselves on this league especially in the Eastern Conference. They have a great coaching staff, great players over there, so it's gonna be a great challenge for us in trying to measure where we are and where we need to be."
While it is far too early in the season to call tomorrow's match-up a potential Finals preview, both teams are clearly seeing the game as a chance to measure how far they have come and how far they still have to go in terms of preparing for the grind of the upcoming season.
Knowing that they will be the first ever NBA teams to play a preseason game in basketball-mad Philippines is also making tomorrow's showdown more special for the players.
"It's great that the NBA has brought basketball to this country," said George. "For us to be the first ones to be here to play, it's special."
"It's a huge honor to even play here in the Philippines," said Chandler Parsons, one of the most promising players of the Houston Rockets. "They are so passionate about basketball here, it's awesome to come in take in this culture and put on a show for the fans."
"To be able to play a team like the Pacers, they're one of the best in the East. So I think it will be a good test to see where we stand against one of the best teams in the NBA, and what better place to play in than in the Philippines," Parsons added.
Indiana won both of their games last season, winning 105-95 in their January 18 game, and then sweeping their season series with a 100-91 victory in March 27.