Is the Houston Rockets offense taking its toll on James Harden, left, and Jeremy Lin, right, as the Rockets push for the NBA Playoffs? (Photo : Reuters)
The Houston Rockets have arguably the most intense, fast-paced offense in the entire NBA this season.
A system that is predicated on perpetual motion, constant running and pure athleticism that the luxury of youth brings a team, it has been running opponents ragged all season as the Rockets have used their young legs to catapult them to the highest-scoring team offense in the NBA, dropping a whopping 107.0 points per game against opponents for the season.
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The result? Houston has a hold on the eight and final playoff seed and has the potential to move up higher.
But, as it is the case in life, there is a give-and-take with the Rockets' offense. To keep the motor revved and running in the Rockets' offense, there is a physical toll on the body that has to be paid. One that the teams' two most important stars, Jeremy Lin and James Harden, are starting to feel.
Harden and Lin, the team's leading scorer and the team's assist leader, respectively, sat out of practice late last week to rest Harden's knee and Lin's ankle ailment-an injury that Lin has encountered frequently this season.
As the Houston Chronicle reports, Harden's left knee became bruised when he collided with Monta Ellis in a Wednesday game against Milwaukee. Lin, meanwhile, was held out of Thursday's practice as well due to soreness in his right ankle, a nagging injury though the season. Both played Friday night.
However, Harden admitted that he's been getting more worn and torn as the season goes on for the Rockets' All-Star two-guard.
"I'm a little banged up, but I don't have the time and luxury of sitting out and worrying about the knee," Harden said. "We have a big goal and that's to try to make the playoffs. We'll just ice it up and be ready to go. I was (concerned) because it was in the same spot as the previous injury. Jason Biles, my trainer, did a good job of working with me and icing it. It will be ready."
Lin added before Friday's game that his ankle " feels good, a lot better than yesterday."
However, last Thursday's sit-downs of Lin and Harden during practice should come as a red flag of concern for the Rockets. Harden spoke the truth when he said that the Rockets weren't exactly in the position to take it easy.
The Lakers are starting to build some momentum, and Kobe Bryant made it clear that he wants to get to the playoffs. The Rockets (33-28) have a chance to pass by Golden State (33-27) and Utah (32-27) perhaps even Denver (38-22) or Memphis (39-19) within the last six weeks of the regular season. Or, they could also slip and fall out of playoff contention with a string of losses here and there, as the last Rockets team did last season. That being said, they need Harden, their star player, and Lin, their starting floor general, keeping the backcourt on the attack and leading the charge of Houston's fiery offensive flurries as they get ready for the final push towards the playoffs.
But on the other hand, there's the other side of the equation. Lin and Harden need time to heal. Lin is only 24 years old and Harden 23, with loads of time and energy, but youth does not make you bullet-proof, especially in the NBA. Derrick Rose had a litany of injuries last season for Chicago, but he kept playing right through Game 1 of the playoffs, only for his ACL to give out on him.
And no matter which way one slices it, losing either Lin or Harden would be a huge blow to the Rockets.
Therein lies the question. Is is better to let Lin and Harden take a few games off down the stretch in order to have them for the final games of the regular season and have them rested for a possible playoff appearance, the first in three seasons for Houston? Or does Rockets coach Kevin McHale risk having them play through the pain as the Rockets try and build climb up in the playoff standings?
The answer to that question may determine the fate of the Rockets come April.