Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Parsons' Balanced Attack Could Lift Houston Rockets In NBA Playoffs
Whenever star scorers like James Harden go down, a team can struggle looking to adjust on offense.
Fortunately, that's why Chandler Parsons, the tall forward with the smooth shooting touch, is a Rocket. But when he goes down, too? How does one fill in that gap? Well, a third scorer wouldn't hurt, but that's a commodity that is hard to come by these days for most NBA teams that aren't the Miami Heat, L.A. Lakers or the pre-injury Boston Celtics.
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That's where Jeremy Lin came into play. After getting off to a hot start in March, averaging 16.8 points and 5.4 assists over nine games, Lin saw his minutes get cut over a four game-stretch where he played only 22.5 minutes per game. Then, Harden went down with a foot injury before the March 30 game against the Clippers--Parsons went down soon after with a case of food poisoning--and Lin saw his ball possessions, minutes and shot attempts rise much higher than they had in the last few games. After looking awkward for a bit of time and looking like he was losing the shooting touch that had ignited at the start of the month at over 50 percent accuracy, Lin was looking effective once more.
Then, Harden and Parsons returned on Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings and were poised to have some big minutes and go heavy duty on the possessions, which left Lin's future in uncertainty for that game. Whether he would go back to being used sparingly as he had for four games or whether he would manage to play as effectively as he was when March began was a question was unknown.
What Rockets fans got, with their starting lineup whole again, was a balanced attack on offense that mounted to a 112-102 win on the road over the Kings on Wednesday. Harden was his usual dynamic self, scoring 21 points on 7of 19 shooting and 9 assists. Parsons was on fire, shooting a lethal 12-for-18 from the field with 29 points to lead the Rockets. And Lin? He scored 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting with a team-leading 10 assists for his second straight double-double this month.
They even got surprise help from substitute rookie power forward Terrence Jones, who scored 14 points in 29 minutes, perhaps another revelation and possibly a new weapon for the Rockets to look to from the bench come playoff time. Four of Houston's five starters scored in double figures. Houston was moving the ball well, passing for 32 team assists, spreading the wealth and getting everyone involved.
And when things got tight in the fourth quarter of the high-scoring contest, the young Rockets did not panic. They held it together when the score shrunk to 106-101with just over two minutes to play. Largely in part, thanks to Lin's timely 3-pointer with 2:05 remaining that cut off the Kings' momentum and helped the Rockets cruise to the win.
Lin even made a little joke about what he was thinking when he threw the rock to Jones in the corner but got it back with the shot clock ready to expire.
"I was thinking you better pass that ball back to me rookie," said Lin with a smile. "I got it back and I was going to swing it, but there were only two seconds left. So I decided I better shoot and I let it go."
Sooth, fast, athletic, efficient, the ball never going to one place for too long, everyone getting in on the action...that is the Rockets at their best. Using their talents to fuse together as a seamless unit, unselfish, always on the move. The Kings never had a chance.
Could this, then, be the formula needed for the Rockets come April 20, when the NBA playoffs begin? A balanced system predicated not solely on Harden doing it all, but everyone chipping in and doing a little bit of everything, passing the ball around enough to make sure everyone gets a shot? It certainly seemed to be the case on Wednesday.
Granted, the Kings aren't exactly the dynamic Oklahoma City Thunder or the experienced San Antonio Spurs, but a balanced Rockets attack such as the one fans saw on Wednesday could cause any team they face in the first round their share of headaches. Harden, a first-time NBA All-Star this season, will be the main target of any defense. It's natural. He's their best player, their top scorer, their MVP. But Harden wasn't even the top scorer on Wednesday; Parsons was.
And even with a team-leading 19 shot attempts for Harden, Houston still found a way to circulate the ball instead of rely solely on Harden and Parsons to get the ball. Lin was dishing and shooting. Asik was making the most of his eight shots and playing hard in the paint to get the foul calls and free throws.
When Harden is hot, he can dominate, but it places the Rockets at the mercy of whether the bearded superstar is having a good night or an off-night. But when the ball is circulating like it was on Wednesday and everyone becomes aggressive on offense, the Rockets are simply too quick and too hard to stop on defense. The balance on their relentless attack makes them all but impossible to beat.
And that kind of momentum, that kind of smooth, unselfish, and efficient scoring, doesn't just give the Rockets a decent chance in the playoffs--it could make them bracket-busters.