In a highly anticipated showdown, Jeremy Lin, left, and the new-look Houston Rockets will face 2011-12 NBA MVP LeBron James and the reigning NBA world champion Miami Heat tonight in Houston, Texas. (Photo : Reuters)
**Update** 10:40 p.m. EST: Rockets Lose to Heat 113 - 110
After dropping three straight games, the Houston Rockets managed to right their ship Saturday when they beat the hapless Detroit Piston 96-82 behind James Harden's 20 points and Jeremy Lin's 7 points and 8 assists.
That was the easy part; now here comes the real test.
Trying to recapture some of their earlier momentum, the Houston Rockets will look to take their second straight win tonight, but to do it, they will have to face the league's biggest star, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the well-oiled, 5-2 defending NBA Champion Miami Heat at 8 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
For both Harden and Lin, facing the Heat-who will be visiting Houston for the only time this season-allows them to confront the team that deflated both of their championship dreams last season. After having a stellar playoff run during his Sixth Man of the Year campaign in Oklahoma City, Harden underperformed in the NBA Finals as the Thunder were beaten 4-1 by the Heat for the championship. Lin was on the sidelines following a knee injury that cut his "Linsanity" period in New York short when Miami beat the Knicks 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.
With a win behind them to snap their three-game losing streak Saturday, Harden, Lin and their teammates will be looking to capitalize their momentum, despite the loss of head coach Kevin McHale, who took a leave of absence over the weekend for personal reasons. However, with Miami coming off an embarrassing 104-86 blowout loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night-marked by lowly 4-for-15 three-point field goal shooting-James and company will either be reeling or come out angry and looking to prove a point.
So, how will the Rockets manage to contain the Heat? When it comes down to it, there are several keys to victory for the Rockets:
1 Don't run up high turnovers
In total, the Rockets are averaging a whopping 19.0 turnovers in the last six games. If they do that tonight against the Heat-who have made a history of turning turnovers into easy points-their fate will be sealed. For Harden, center Omer Asik and Lin, who average the top three highest turnover rates among Houston players, that means they will have to be firmly in control of the ball tonight, and avoid sloppy play that could easily put their team in a hole against one of the NBA's most potent offenses.
2. Time for Harden to step it up
When you average 41.0 points in your first two games-and make it look easy-it's too easy for others to call you a star, and Harden earned that distinction with stunning play that earned him NBA Player of the Week honors in the first week of the season. However, since then, opponents have gotten wise to the Rockets' new star and Harden's offense has fallen off to a 26.5 point game average-No.2 among NBA scorers. Harden left the cushy life of being the league's best sixth man and a potential championship season with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City behind to be "The Man" on this squad. If he wants to prove just how big of a star he really is, there won't be a better test than against the reigning kings of basketball.
3. The Heat need to get infected with "Linsanity"
We've all seen the highlights from New York. We've all heard the stories. Jeremy Lin really can be that good. But thus far, he has only shown brief flashes of that unknown kid with the explosive step and the fearless jumper that made him a star in New York last season, when he captivated the world with his rise from 'anonymity' to 'amazing'. He'll face a tough challenge in Miami guard Mario Chalmers, who had a big NBA Finals performance last season. But if the Rockets are going to have a real chance of beating the Heat tonight, they're going to need Lin to be the Broadway Sensation for one night, the guy who scored at will, got teammates involved and ran the court with an uncanny sense.
4. D-fense (clap-clap) D-fense
Believe it or not, the Rockets' defense isn't too shabby. In fact, they rank No. 10 among the 30 NBA teams in the league, allowing only 93.5 points for opponents per game. But they're going to have to be stellar on defense tonight to contain the Heat, ranked third in the league in points scored with 104.4 points per game, behind only New York and Dallas. And everyone knows what James, Wade and Bosh can do when they get going offensively. If they can contain at least two of those "Big Three," while getting Harden and Lin going offensively, Houston might be able to pull off a major upset.