Letting the fact that the Houston Rockets were embarrassed in their previous game against a playoff rival, the Jeremy Lin project is improving nicely in recent weeks, taking his scoring and general playing ability up a notch or two, match James Harden, almost shot for shot, as the two steered the team back in the right direction.
Facing the Utah Jazz, a direct competitor for the final playoff spots in the Western conference, the Rockets couldn’t let what happened to them against the Golden State Warriors be the result again. In that game, it was Jeremy Lin, James Harden and nothing much else. It wasn’t that different this time, only with slightly better defense, a bit of more scoring output from Chandler Parsons Carlos Delfino, but mostly Lin and Harden dominating in a way the falling-apart Jazz simply couldn’t match, winning 100-93.
We only have a handful of games left, and this game today was a huge game from standings, to them trying to catch us, to us having the tiebreaker. Guys played like it, especially at the beginning. We got a little conservative and started getting slow. We started nursing the lead and you can’t do that.
Jeremy Lin finished with 24 points and 6 assists on one of his better shooting nights of the season, going 9-13 from the field. He has scored at least 21 points over the last three games for the Rockets, averaging 23 points and 6 assists while shooting four straight games over 53% from the field. It might not have the same buzz it had last season when he pulled off these numbers for the New York Knicks, but it’s no longer such a big surprise to see him play this well.
Harden struggled with his shooting, especially later in the game, when the Jazz did a better job in closing the lane and denying him his penetrations, but he still got his fair share of points. Harden led the Rockets with 29 points, going 17-18 from the line and 5-14 from the field, continuing to lead the NBA in free throw attempts this season, which might come in very handy in the close and tight games ahead, when the pace starts slowing down and a missed point here and there from the line becomes much more crucial. He’s shooting 85.9% this season, making 10.2 trips to the free throw line on average.
This was a game decided early on, with the Jazz only improving the quality of their chase as the Rockets stopped play too well in the second half. Utah shot only 8-23 from the field in the first quarter, and things got worst in the second. The Rockets mustered only two field goals in the last four minutes of the half and still led 52-33 at the break, while outrebounding the Jazz 24-13 in those opening 24 minutes, including scoring 10 points off of 8 turnovers.
Situation? The Rockets are now at 7th, three games ahead of the Jazz at ninth. They still have to worry about the Lakers overtaking them while trying to get past the Golden State Warriors at 6th (one game ahead), but it’s going to take some serious malfunctions for the Rockets to miss the playoffs. With Harden and Lin playing like they have in recent games, that’s very unlikely to happen.