If anyone still wondered about Dwight Howard being able to carry a team on his back without any outside help, his performance in the 114-97 win over the Detroit Pistons was a satisfying answer, having no James Harden to keep the ball away for him, while Jeremy Lin comes closer to a return, partially because Patrick Beverley broke his arm.
We’ll get to Lin later, but this specific win was about Howard, putting on a show with his best game since leaving the Orlando Magic. He finished with 35 points, 19 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, doing most of his damage on the head of Andre Drummond. He wasn’t in it alone – Aaron Brooks and Omri Casspi did a great job off the bench; Chandler Parsons was excellent once again. But in a rarity since leaving the Magic, this was about Howard first and foremost.
Both teams came with the approach of scoring a lot in the paint. Howard didn’t mind being alone in the battle against Drummond (9 points), Josh Smith (20 points) and Greg Monroe (10 points). Both teams finished with 62 points in the paint, as the Rockets defense looked better without Harden on the floor, as the movement on the perimeter looked a lot faster than it usually does, while the Pistons being awful from three helped, limiting them to only 1-of-12 from beyond the arc.
That’s where the two teams were separated, even if the Rockets were playing without three of their top four players from last season, as Omer Asik continues to be a no-show. The Rockets were 9-of-23 from beyond the arc, moving the ball very well along the line or simply doing some great inside-outside movement, with Howard playing the pivot excellently. The team finished with 33 assists, leading to a lot of easy baskets (55.7% from the field), as Omri Casspi and Brooks each had 7 assists.
But now to Lin, who is still suffering from back spasms. However, the Rockets are down to only one true guard (Brooks), which means his return is imminent. Beverley didn’t play in the second half due to the pain in his right arm, later revealed to be a fracture which will keep him out for a while. James Harden is in rest mode, with the Rockets preferring he heals his ankle completely, seeing how badly he did against the Pacers.
I thought Patrick really started off well. We are not going to have Patrick for a while, which means that Jeremy is due to come back. It does not matter how many guys we have. It does not matter who is playing or who is not playing. We just have to go there and play together and play with some toughness. Toughness and togetherness overcomes a lot of stuff.
It’s always funny to hear what McHale has to say, and understand his view on where Lin fits in this team. For him, it’s Beverley before Lin. Forget about the injuries – Beverley, a guy who is listed as a point guard because of his size but can’t do much but provide decent defense, great effort, and some outside shooting, preferred to Lin. Yes, Lin has turnover problems and isn’t the best defender in the world, but his vision and ability to drive into the paint and make quick decisions isn’t just good, but is one of the best in the league on most nights.
The Rockets have a smart team when Harden isn’t playing, but their guard situation is getting ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous that so many injuries is the only way for Lin to once again try and fight for some appreciation from a head coach and management who clearly prefer to see this team continuing to play selfish basketball, with James Harden leading the trend.