If recent wins suggested that the Houston Rockets are going to be more than just a 7 seed no one is really afraid of in the Western Conference, the ongoing slump of Jeremy Lin on the offensive end and a demonstration by the Indiana Pacers in how to stop James Harden, it’s quite clear that they are still a fair distance away from becoming a postseason force to be reckoned with.
The key in stopping Harden? Taking away the chance for him to establish a presence in the key early on in the possession. The Indiana Pacers are one of the few teams in the NBA capable of doing that, and sent Harden to one of his worst shooting nights of the season. He did finish with 22 points, but made only 6-24 from the field, using his usual excellence from the line (7-9 this time) to get a few more points on the stat sheet than he deserved.
And what of Lin? He finished with only 8 points, playing in only 20 minutes, not being as involved offensively as Harden, which might be some thing Kevin McHale regrets in hindsight. Lin, not 100% in recent games, is averaging only 6 points per game on his last three, playing an average of 22.3 minutes per game. The Rockets need more of him on the floor to take the pressure of Harden, who tends to try too much on his own when he doesn’t have a partner to curb his enthusiasm.
The Indiana Pacers, with a 100-91 win, kept on pace with the New York Knicks, although they do have two more games played. Roy Hibbert continued his excellent offensive form, scoring 28 points and adding 15 rebounds, maybe more importantly providing a rock in the middle that didn’t allow Harden his usual looks from close range, while the long arms of Hill, Stephenson (21 points) and Paul George denied him and the others plenty of good looks they’re used to getting.
The Pacers? While they continue to go through the motions, if they do get David West back on time, they look like the favorites to finish second in East and reach the conference finals against the Miami Heat. The Rockets? Despite occasional hot nights even away from home, they won’t be past the first round.