Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons

The Houston Rockets shouldn’t be better without James Harden, but his injury was a welcome change for a team that’s been stuck lately due to several factors. Jeremy Lin got the chance to start instead and play the way he is supposed to be. He didn’t have the best of performances, but the direction and style were perfect for the team, enabling Dwight Howard to have another big night and a third win this season over the San Antonio Spurs.

There’s a chance that injuries to Harden (before the game) and to Manu Ginobili during it were the two most influential moments in the 97-90 win for the Rockets over the Spurs; their third this season against their inner-state rivals, the first time that’s happened since Tim Duncan was drafted.

Harden not playing gave Jeremy Lin his lineup spot back, and 44 minutes on the floor. The Rockets can’t play with Patrick Beverley on his own, no matter which one of the bench players is next to him, which was another example of why this whole benching Lin thing is close to idiotic. Lin scored 18 points and added 8 assists. Instead of handing the ball off and waiting in the corner to be noticed he was in attack mode all night long, going to the line (7-of-7) and making things happen each time he Pick and Rolled with Dwight Howard or simply created havoc with his drives. The Rockets were actually playing better when Brooks was partnered with Lin in the backcourt.

The Spurs have injuries plaguing them (so do the Rockets) so losing Manu Ginobili during the game, right after he tied the game in the third quarter with a dunk, wasn’t something they really needed. Instead of trying to outplay the Rockets, they resorted to hack-a-Howard tactics which didn’t work for them. In the span of eight consecutive possessions, Howard shot 16 free throws, but San Antonio still finished the quarter down eight points. He finished the game with 13-of-25 from the line, which was good enough to keep the Spurs at a safe distance.

Howard scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds while Terrence Jones had another impressive game, scoring 21 points and 9 rebounds, enjoying the higher tempo the Rockets were playing in due to no one holding up the ball and wasting time on long possessions. The more open looks didn’t result in better shooting percentages: only 44% from the field and 27.8% from beyond the arc, but it’s hard to argue that when a real point guard is leading the offense for the Rockets, things simply look better.

Dwight Howard

Kevin McHale once again addressed something while ignoring other truths evident for all to see: We just kept grinding it out. We changed a couple of things defensively and the guys kind of dug in and got stops.

Yes, the Rockets’ defense did look better, without the usual negligence we see from them on most nights around the perimeter. The Spurs were limited to 42.7% from the field as Tony Parker found it harder than usual to weave his way into the paint. But once again it might come down to James Harden not playing.

The Rockets aren’t a better team without Harden; when you take away a player with his abilities, in the long run it’s going to hurt. But this win (and others earlier this season) prove a few things: That the coaching staff are benching the wrong player as we see once again just how much of a bonus it is to have Lin actually playing like a point guard, and using him while Harden plays a bit more off the ball is good for everyone: The team, Lin himself, Dwight Howard and it should be also for James Harden, who is a shooting guard despite what Kevin McHale is trying to do.

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