At some point, hack-a-Dwight had to backfire on someone. That team happened to be the Denver Nuggets, seeing an incredible free throwing performance from Dwight Howard, stepping up instead of the mistake-filled James Harden game or Jeremy Lin having a solid performance from the bench, leading the Houston Rockets to a 122-111 win.
It’s been a while since the Rockets have been able to win without some very late drama going on. That was prevented because Howard led the scoring with 25 points and 7 rebounds, and most impressively shot 17-of-24 from the line. It was the seventh time in his career with at least 24 attempts from the line, and his best performance since shooting the exact percentage (70.8%) for the Orlando Magic nearly five years ago.
Does this mean teams are going to stop using the tactic? Probably not. It’s dirty, it makes the game look ugly, but in the weird morality and ethics of NBA basketball, head coaches seem to agree that its an acceptable way of stopping teams that are quite difficult to handle in any other way.
The Nuggets started using the tactic early because of the huge deficit they were in, and the penalty of choosing the free throw shooter still wasn’t coming into effect. After almost three minutes of sending Howard to the line, the Nuggets stopped making a mockery of the game, and James Harden was the first to score with a three-pointer, as the fans roared, finally getting a chance to see some basketball.
Harden wasn’t very impressive, finishing with 17 points and 9 assists, but another inefficient display of shooting with 5-of-16. He wasn’t able to get to the line as much as usual (five times), and the consistency of his choices to take bad shots isn’t going away on most nights, only this time it didn’t cost the Rockets a win, which has happened before this season.
Lin himself was relatively quiet compared to previous games, although with 16 points, 7 assists and maybe most importantly only one turnover, it was one of his most efficient games this season. He came off the bench in a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing, as the Rockets enjoyed a very strong start without him, coming into the game when the lead was already 11 in the first quarter.
McHale knows the team is better with Lin, but prefers using Beverley in the lineup for some reason. He might say that he needs Lin to be the man leading the second unit for a few minutes and gives him a more talented and reliable point guard coming off the bench, but leading point-guard types, all around the league, don’t come off the bench. Too many times has this felt like something personal, that eventually might backfire on the Rockets before they learn that going only with James Harden handling the ball won’t get them too far.
And speaking of personal, Omer Asik continues to suffer from a mysterious illness, which in other ways is called not wanting to play and looking for a trade. Chandler Parsons, scoring 20 points on another fantastic game from him, has already called him out for acting in a way that’s going to hurt the team, because he’s going to get plenty of minutes, even if it’s coming off the bench. For now, the Rockets aren’t moving anyone, and Asik is going to have to sulk. Looking at Jeremy Lin not making too much of a fuss from being benched, even if he knows he deserves more, should be something Asik looks up to instead of turning his back on the organization.