Houston Rockets – Jeremy Lin & James Harden Can’t Beat Elite Teams

It’s a fun ride this season with the Houston Rockets, enjoying early hype thanks to the arrival of Jeremy Lin and on-court success due to the ability of James Harden, but it’s still not enough to beat the best teams in the NBA, losing to title contenders time after time.

These are four consecutive losses for the Rockets after their 117-109 loss at home against the Clippers, the previous ones in the streak coming against the improving Hornets, streaking Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. Teams that the Rockets breezed by against until 10 days ago.

Something’s changed? Not so much has changed, but teams are figuring out the Rockets. Their best weapon James Harden and his isolation plays. The moment you manage to corner him into a tough spot and force him to take a shot instead of looking for a pass, the best option for the Rockets, Houston no longer look like the best scoring team in the NBA.

Once Harden is trying a bit too hard, the ability of the players around him, including Lin, is a lot less consistent. Lin finished the game against the Clippers with 11 points, but he’s been shooting terribly during the losing streak, 33.3% from the field and averaging only 10 points per game. Harden is a given for 25 points, mas o menos, each night. Lin exceeding expectations is often the key for the Rockets to win. His defense is another thing.

Opposing point guards had a field day with Lin in recent games – Greivis Vasquez finished with 17 points and 11 asssits; Jrue Holiday dropped 30 points on Lin; Eric Bledsoe added 19 points and 8 assists. Only Rajon Rondo went easy on him, finishing with 13 points and 5 assists. Lin not managing to contain point guards while having bad days offensively is a big problem for the Rockets.

And then there’s the rest of the team that eventually depends on Harden’s ability to get free, start a high-paced running game going and making the right choices, feeding the other free players.

The Rockets are looking for a deal that will land them a power forward, because Patrick Patterson is no longer appreciated in the starter position, and is a chip the Rockets would like to deal in any package they send over for someone like Paul Millsap, for example. Patterson is averaging 11.7 points per game this season, but only 5.6 over the last five games, shooting 44.4% from the field.

Omer Asik has been quite subdued in recent games. The double double machine is averaging 10.3 points and 11.1 rebounds this season, but only 7.3 points in his last six games. Again, most players on the Rockets completely rely on the ability of James Harden to make the right decisions, creating freedom and space for others.

Lin did finish with 10 assists against the Clippers in a very good first half, going down ahead by one point. A change of focus in the game from Harden to Lin, or at least setting up a few different plays for Harden instead of running the isolation again and again (over 40% of his shots come from isolation plays) might be the key to get the Rockets winning again, even against the better teams of the NBA.

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