Injuries to the team’s best guards have really shortened the backcourt rotation for the Houston Rockets, but Jeremy Lin is going to be back on the floor before James Harden and Patrick Beverley, giving him a chance to show just how good the team can be playing his style of basketball.
Lin has missed 10 of the last 12 games – first with a knee injury, and the last four with back spasms keeping him out. The Rockets went 6-4 without him. Harden? The Rockets are 4-1 when he isn’t playing, including a terrific performance from Dwight Howard in the most recent win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which Jeremy Lin didn’t play as well, but the Rockets played smart basketball, doing what should be done instead of entertaining the talents and needs of just one player.
The Rockets aren’t going to risk Harden’s ankle, which has been bothering for about a month, but has gotten worse recently, as he hasn’t taken a rest which has led to some catastrophic performances, including his 3-of-14 night in the 33-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, when he insisted on trying to prove he can do it on his own against Paul George and was taught quite a lesson.
Without Patrick Beverley (out for about a month, probably more) due to his broken arm, Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia will be getting more minutes like in the previous game, working out quite well. Lin will probably be limited in minutes, which might mean he’ll continue coming off the bench, but being so shorthanded when it comes to their backcourt might force the Rockets to play him more than they would want to, injured or not.
The Rockets aren’t a better team without James Harden. Anytime you take away such scoring talent away from a team you’re automatically, at least on the individual level, weaker. But Harden is a problem Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey don’t see or simply refuse to acknowledge. His shooting and scoring comes at the cost of alienating certain players on the court – the balls don’t go inside to Dwight Howard, while smart players like Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons get less touches on the ball. The result?
A team that plays selfish and predictable basketball, with one star and four players watching him, hoping he notices them after dribbling the ball for 18 to 20 seconds. It’s enough to make it into the playoffs in this league, so heavily based on talent and athleticism instead of basketball IQ, but it won’t get the Rockets any further. They signed Lin and Harden to get something started, and they added Dwight Howard to win NBA titles.
A healthy Lin in this situation was going to put up big numbers, and the Rockets would have looked great. Maybe not win every game, but there’s such a huge difference when Lin is running the floor instead of Harden slowing it down. The movement, the spacing, the screens. Lin is a much better decision maker when driving to the basket. Yes, he tries to do some complicated things sometimes, resulting in his high turnover numbers (2.8, although that has improved before the injury), but it’s simply day and night compared to the slow, sluggish basketball the Rockets play with Harden and Beverley getting most of the touches.
If the Rockets are thinking about a championship, making Harden your number one player isn’t going to work, especially not when he plays the dual role of main finisher and point guard. Jeremy Lin? He shouldn’t be the star of this team, but there’s a good chance the next few games will be a lesson, teaching everyone about how big of a part he should be taking in the Rockets’ offense, and how misused he’s been thus far.