Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, left, and the young Rockets will undoubtedly be reaching for the NBA's Southwest Division Title this year. (Photo : Reuters)
Since pairing Jeremy Lin with James Harden after Harden was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets have become arguably the most exciting team in the NBA to watch one week into the new NBA season.
Combined, Lin and Harden-who has the Houston faithful sporting beards in the stands in tribute to his signature facial hair-have dropped 50.6 points per game against opponents in the first three games of the season, according to their NBA team stats. Solid contributions from starting center Omer Asik on the boards, averaging 14.3 per game, and subs Greg Smith and Carlos Delfino off the bench have helped, as well.
Sporting a 2-1 record, Houston finds itself tied for third place in the new Southwest Division standings with New Orleans and Memphis, one game behind the 3-1 Dallas Mavericks and one and half games back from the 4-0 San Antonio Spurs.
While the competition is steep in a very talented division, the Rockets play has given rise to one question-Can this new, high octane offense-powered Rockets team become the Southwest Champions this year?
Granted, to do so won't be easy.
Even with the explosive rise of Harden and the formation of what is rapidly becoming the league's most potent 1-2 backcourt combination of Harden and the man who inspired "Linsanity", the Rockets are faced with a mountainous task if they want to win the division-something they haven't done in 19 years since their championship season of 1993-94, when all-time great Hakeem "The Dream" Olajawon was in his prime.
First, this young team still needs to learn to play together.
Houston is young and hungry, but with the Rockets undergoning major changes since last summer, dropping Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic while adding Lin, Harden, Asik, Cole Alrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Haywood-40 percent of their 15-man roster, two of them being their biggest stars.
After their 95-85 Saturday loss to the Trail Blazers in overtime, Houston coach Kevin McHale told reporters after the game that the team would need time to develop their chemistry and get the ball moving in more motion to allow the Rockets to utilize Lin's offensive talents. In addition, other players are going to have to step up in order to take the offensive load off of Harden each night.
Of course, while starters Asik, power forward Patrick Patterson and small forward Chandler Parsons will have to contribute on both ends of the floor, no player aside from Harden is tied to this team's success more than Lin.
Alone, it's hard to see either player, alone, lead the Rockets past a still-formidable Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and the Spurs, Zach Randolph's Grizzlies or Dirk Nowitzki and O.J Mayo's Mavericks. However, if Harden's offensive firepower is matched by the playmaking and point-racking version of Lin that resurrected the New York Knicks last season, this is a team that could make a serious vie for the NBA Southwest title.
Whether they can do it, however, will be a 79-game journey that will be, at the very least, interesting to watch.