If the Houston Rockets are going to succeed this season, it’s not going to be with the recipe of James Harden doing whatever he wants with the ball, while Dwight Howard fights from scraps, hoping to get noticed from time to time. The absence of Jeremy Lin is hurting the team because there’s no one to counter Harden’s style and selfishness, exemplified at its worst in a 114-81 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Lin is out with back problems, or maybe it’s the same Asik treatment? Asik didn’t travel with the team, and he’s still hoping that the trade talk about him becomes reality. Lin is with the team, but you can’t help but wonder if his injury has something to do with Daryl Morey trying to make December changes to the squad, which is struggling lately, mostly without Lin playing a major role or any at all, going 4-5 in December so far.
Big losses happen, but there’s a difference between one happening after a rough road trip with the players exhausted, and one that comes because the team played in the wrong way right from the start. James Harden had the unfortunate experience of being guarded by Paul George for most of the game. Instead of trying to be smart about it, moving the ball and trying to get open off the ball through screens, Harden played his usual one against the world style. He finished with only 12 points on 3-of-14 from the field, turning the ball over five times and finishing with only two assists.
Beating the Pacers requires thinking, intelligent basketball, or simply overpowering them into submission like the Pistons did. Dwight Howard, despite outplaying Roy Hibbert, isn’t enough. Howard finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds; Chandler Parsons had a good game with 14 points on 6-of-8 from the field. However, most of the time was spent on Harden ruining possession after possession, no one thinking about telling him to try and change what he was doing, which clearly wasn’t working.
With Lin or without him, winning against the Pacers on the road isn’t a very easy assignment, as the team came into the game quite motivated following two consecutive losses. Paul George scored 24 points, and the return of Danny Granger, despite scoring only 5, means there’s even more firepower than before on a team that looks as complete as any in the NBA, still in control of the top spot in the Eastern conference.
But Lin represents a direction, not just his own abilities, a direction the Rockets, for some reason, refuse to go in, sticking with selfish, individual and quite predictable basketball, representing a lot of what’s wrong with the NBA. It comes down to simply if Harden is having a bad or good shooting day, instead of this being a team that relies on more than one foundation, and can get big nights from more players. For that you need an actual point guard, who isn’t a shoot-first kind of player. Jeremy Lin can fill that role, but everything the Rockets have been doing this season and before suggests they don’t want him to.