Houston Rockets: New Perspectives and Potential Arrive Despite Loss to Spurs

It had all the makings to be another blowout loss for the Houston Rockets against the San Antonio Spurs.  Just 3 days removed from a 114-92 loss at San Antonio, the Rockets faced a tougher challenge when James Harden was listed as inactive just minutes before tip-off. That was all but the case, as the youthful, energetic Rockets fell in overtime 134-126.

For the first time this season, Rockets fans finally received a dose of a Linsanity revival.  Jeremy Lin put on an incredible performance, sinking three-pointers, finishing in the paint, setting up his teammates, and making plays on defense.  Lin tied a career-high with 38 points, on 11-21 shooting, as well as dishing out 7 assists.  Perhaps most surprising was the fact that Lin shot 4-5 from three, as he was shooting 26% entering the game from behind the arc.  But this raises the question of how Lin and Harden can coincide once Harden returns.

After 20 games into the season, Lin has been the subject of much criticism and scrutiny.  With Houston being a secondary level market in the NBA, many others focused primarily on just the numbers that Lin was putting up.  Entering into Monday night’s game, Lin was averaging 9.9 points and 6.0 assists, a significant decrease from his output in New York.  Not to mention a reputation of being a bad defensive player arose as well, next to being turn-over prone.  What others did not see was the fact that his touches, shots, and playing time were decreased tremendously, nice passes under the basket to Omer Asik that turned into a blown assist, as well as not having time to adjust from the last minute acquisition of Harden.

It’s obvious that the organization is much more committed to Harden, signing him to an extension days after acquiring him, and running the offense through him, as they should.  Harden has been one of the most efficient players in the NBA, averaging career highs of 24.7 points and 5.6 assists.  Harden is also shooting 43% from the field, 35% from behind the arc, and 84% from the free throw line.  While Lin’s performance does not mean the ball should be taken out of Harden’s hands, it does give Coach Kevin McHale a dilemma of how to adjust the offense when both players are on the floor together.  In last night’s postgame interview, McHale gave a small insight as to what could be done.

“We’ve got to find ways of making sure we get (both guys involved),” McHale stated.  “I’ve been gone a long time but there are things that we’ve got to do where … Jeremy can get to his right hand on the left side and James can get to his left hand on the right side, so you can do a lot on both sides where both guys get to play to their strong hand when they’re driving. We’ve got to get better at some areas and put in some stuff that will allow both guys to play better. They’re going to be fine.”

Will they be fine? Or will this be an issue in the future? After Saturday’s 116-109 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, McHale simply stated that Lin will be fine after playing just 18 minutes.  Well, Lin turned out to be more than just fine, so it’s hard to doubt that McHale won’t find a solution.  Remember, when Lebron James and Dwayne Wade paired up, also two players who have the most success when having the ball in their hands, it took the two more than a year to adjust to each other.

As far as Lin’s reputation of a bad defender? The question is not who CAN’T defend, but rather who CAN defend? So far this season, 15 of the 32 starting point guards in the NBA are averaging double digits in scoring, while 16 starting point guards are averaging more than 6 assists. While Lin has had his lapses on defense, he is 8th among point guards in steals, averaging 1.9 a game. The bottom line is the Rockets must play better team defense.

Game Notes:

Omer Asik recorded another double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds.  Chandler Parsons scored 20 points, going 4-8 from three, and pulling down 7 rebounds.  Both Toney Douglas and Marcus Morris played well off the bench. Douglas logged 40 minutes, scoring 17 points, going 5-7 from behind the arc.  Morris scored 13 points and went 2-3 from three.

Carlos Delfino got the start in place of Harden, and had a dismal night.  Delfino went 2-12 from the field, scoring just 5 points.

Lin had scored 15 points in the prior 3 games, putting up a total of 21 shots and 2 free throw attempts.  In Monday’s game alone, Lin shot 21 times, going 11-21 from the field, and 12-12 from the free throw line.

The Rockets tied a season high with 16 made three pointers.

The Rockets had a 9 point lead with 10 minutes left in the game.  This is the second game in a row that Houston has blown a 4th-quarter lead at home.  This also marks the 5th straight game that the Rockets have lost in overtime, dating back to last season.

Tony Parker recorded his first career triple-double with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists for the Spurs.  Gary Neal had a career high 29 points, going 7-10 from behind the arc.  Manu Ginobili also added 22 points off the bench.  The Spurs now have the best record in the NBA at 18-4.

Danny Green scored 14 points, and drew the assignment of defending Lin.  With the game tied at 120 at the end of regulation, Lin had the ball with a chance to win the game.  Going one-on-one, Green was able to poke the ball out of Lin’s hands forcing a shot clock violation with 5 seconds left.  Tim Duncan’s shot was blocked by Delfino with 1 second left, forcing the game into overtime.

The Rockets now have three straight games against Eastern Conference teams, starting on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, Friday against the Boston Celtics, and Sunday afternoon at the Toronto Raptors.  The Friday evening game against Boston will be televised nationally on ESPN (8 PM EST).

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