Playoff-bound teams should look better than this, but at this pace, the Houston Rockets won’t be a playoff team for much longer. Jeremy Lin has never been the real reason for winning or losing, so it’s not his ability that really matters. Teams figuring out James Harden is a much more serious problem.
When you look at the James Harden stat line for wins and losses, everything becomes clearer: When the Rockets win, which has happened since January 8, as Friday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers (95-105) made it six in a row for Houston, Harden averages 28.5 points, 5.8 assists and shoots 49.5% from the field. He attacks the rim early, and is usually less selfish with the ball. When the Rockets lose, Harden averages 23.3 points and shoots a horrendous 38.5% from the field. He was even worse against a team that might be the best defensive unit in the NBA right now, scoring 17 points on a 5-19 shooting night.
Lin doesn’t see such a dramatic drop in points when the Rockets lose, but his field goal percentage takes a similar plunge, making only 39.3% of his shots when the Rockets lose. He did OK against the Pacers, but nothing special; 4-7 from the field, 10 points. Being more and more dependent on what Harden gives this team, it’s no wonder that when he’s having a bad day and doesn’t know how to change the tune, everyone around him suffers.
Paul George is playing two-way basketball as good as anyone in the NBA right now, scoring 31 points and averaging 20.1 points and 10 rebounds since January, becoming the kind of player who’s no longer just a potential waiting to happen, but finally turning into one of the better swingmen in the NBA through both his defense and his offense.
The Rockets? When you play a team like the Pacers, who anchors around Roy Hibbert being unmovable in the paint whiel Paul George’s long arms seem to be everywhere, you have to be a bit smarter than giving the ball to James Harden in iso situations and hoping he gets things done. Omer Asik did have a big day with 22 points and 12 rebounds, including 7 on the offensive glass, but living off second-hand chances isn’t enough for the Rockets when there’s only one player who enjoys that option.
Kevin McHale has been riding his winning horse for too long, ignoring the warning signs. Teams with the athleticism and speed, like the Indiana Pacers, aren’t caught off guard by the Rockets’ plans. James Harden doesn’t get an opportunity to attack the paint as often as he did before the losing streak began, finding it harder and harder to catch interior defenses off guard.
The answer? More ball-handling time for Jeremy Lin. Lin is a bit more creative than Harden in creating situations for more than just himself. It also has to do with the play-calling and drawing from Kevin McHale, but after six straight losses, falling to 21-20 this season, it seems it’s time for some sort of change, before the playoffs start slipping away from his team’s grasp before the All-Star game arrives.