Having James Harden and Jeremy Lin in the same starting backcourt isn’t such a bad thing to have, but the Houston Rockets played badly in a home loss with Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley missing, as Lin had one of his worst games of the season and Harden didn’t play the kind of basketball the team needed to get out of the jam.
The Los Angeles Clippers also had their injury problems, as Blake Griffin left the game early with back spasms. They still came through with a very important 118-107 win, mostly because they have a real point guard running the ship in Chris Paul, while the Rockets rely on James Harden for better or worse, which wasn’t the kind of game they needed after falling behind in the second quarter.
Harden did finish with 32 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, but he also turned the ball over six times and decided that 3-pointer were the thing for him, going 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. The Rockets played well and quickly in the first quarter, but once the Clippers started playing a bit more aggressively on defense, Houston folded. Instead of spreading the floor and making it about quick ball movement, it once again became the James Harden show, which means the ball goes through him and stays in hands way longer than it should.
This isn’t another Harden – Lin comparison. Jeremy Lin had a bad game. He was only 1-of-9 from the field, finding it hard to make open shots as well as the tough ones obviously. However, for yet another example of how skewed the Rockets are in how they approach their offensive game, Lin was depending on Harden to get him the ball. He could have done a better job with his shooting, no doubt, but Lin in the lineup and wasting away all those minutes by looking at Harden try and play point guard is simply an embarrassment to coaching.
Chris Paul is a better player than anyone else on the court on most nights, and “Forced” to take the game on himself, he finished with 30 points and 12 assists. The Rockets didn’t have Beverley to go harass him but it wouldn’t have mattered. Paul scored at ease because there was no Howard to protect the rim, and Houston’s predictable offense with its 19 turnovers kept giving up gifts to a team that loves to run and punish others for their mistakes.
The Rockets need to change their mindset on offense. All the points in the world and all the awesome and misleading numbers James Harden puts up aren’t going to help, especially with Dwight Howard out of the picture for now, hopefully not for too long. The only way the Rockets can beat teams playing good defense isn’t simply letting Harden having a go at it on his own for an entire game. It might work from time to time, but good teams know how to stop it. It’ll come by playing like a team that has plays that aren’t just isos and pop & screens. It takes actual point-guarding to make it happen. Maybe Harden knows how to do it and simply doesn’t want to. But the Rockets have a guy who knows how to make that work; they simply refuse to acknowledge that.