After discussing the struggles of Jeremy Lin this season with the Houston Rockets, came the chance to see him operate without James Harden next to him on the court. The answer came in the form of Lin’s best ever NBA game and a lot of room for hope and optimism despite the 134-126 loss.
Lin finished with 38 points, tying his career high (only his second 20+ game of the season), along with 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. He needed overtime (and 42 minutes) to compile that line, but he became another player on a list that usually ihibits only MVPs or that caliber-type of players, like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.
Lin still was terrible on his defense, and so was his team. Tony Parker got to celebrate with his first triple double of his career (27 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists) and Gary Neal finished with 29 points while Tim Duncan was having an off night. It was all about the perimeter shooting and the guards, as both teams combined for 50% from beyond the arc, attempting 60 field goals together. A fun night for those who love non-stop action and baskets, but bad for whoever is looking for a bit more fundamental basketball that includes defense.
Are the Houston Rockets better without James Harden, out because of an ankle injury? Certainly not. Playing without a natural shooting guard and placing Carlos Delfino didn’t help, as he finished with only 5 points. Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik had big nights (20 and 21 points respectively), but the big news was seeing Lin come up with a big game, a huge one, as he got the role of the main ball handler all night.
And that’s what the Rockets need to come up with from this game. How to make Lin more involved. James Harden can play the shooting guard, although he prefers to be the creator and the decision maker. It seemed whoever was running the team through the first 19 games, Kevin McHale or someone else, decided that Harden will be the de facto point guard, and Jeremy Lin would have to adapt. They seemed to make the wrong decision about it.
Lin needs the ball in his hands. He’s not some combo guard who can live on his jumper alone, waiting for a screen or the pass that leaves him open to bury three pointers. He can hit them, finishing with 4-5 from beyond the arc, improving to over .300 this season, but it’s obvious he’s not a guy who can spot up while someone else is setting the play. He needs pick n’ rolls and a game built on his reads and ability to drive inside to make the most out of him. Looking at the two players, it seems like taking the ball out of James Harden’s hands won’t hurt the Dream Team member as much as it is hurting Lin.
The season actually began well individually for Lin, but that was before McHale had to take a leave of absence, and Harden got complete backing to run the show on his own. Now that the official head coach is returning, thing might continue to look up for Lin. James Harden is the better player, the more important one to the team, but it doesn’t mean Jeremy Lin can’t benefit from this partnership as well. He just needs to be used in the right way. Too bad they needed a loss and a Harden injury to see it.