Jeremy Lin's play has been improving lately, but can he keep it up for the Houston Rockets to have a strong second-half run towards the playoffs? (Photo : Reuters)
The scoring and play of Jeremy Lin has been markedly up and down this season.
One minute, he looks like a red-and-white clad superhero bearing the No.7 for the Houston Rockets: unflappable, unstoppable, the kind of play where nobody can touch him. The next minute, the cape and tights tarnish a little and he looks more like Clark Kent than Superman.
But over the last 12 games, Lin has been showing more consistent signs that he's becoming the player that Leslie Alexander envisioned last offseason when he ordered the Rockets to give Lin $25 million over three years to be their point guard after only a few months of play in New York.
It all started on Dec. 17, when Lin returned to the place where it all began--Madison Square Garden. With the admitted intention that the night was about cutting loose and "having fun," Lin had fun at the Knicks' expense, scoring 22 points with 9 assists to help power the Rockets to a 109-96 victory over New York in Lin's return to MSG.
From there, Lin has averaged 15.2 points and 7.0 assists in the last 12 games spanning December and January.
His latest gem, a 19-point, five assist performance against the Lakers on Tuesday, showcased Lin at his finest in the second half. He faked guys out for jump shots. He drove to the lane without fear. He could finish on a hard foul and still get up to keep on playing.
In short, he played like a leader.
Added with the sensational, world-beating play of James Harden (31 points) and the youthful, bounding athleticism of Houston, and is it a wonder why they overpowered Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash (who notched his historic 10,000th assist that night) and an old, hurting Lakers?
Houston is on a five game winning streak that has lifted them to a 21-14 record and the third best record in the Southwest Division.
During those five games, Lin, who is averaging 12.3 points and 6.3 assists on the season, has kicked up his production a notch, scoring 20 and 19 points in back-to-back games on his way to averaging 14.4 points and 6.4 assists during the Rockets' winning streak.
As Lin's numbers go up, the Rockets keep winning. The math is right there.
Harden, who is among the league leaders in scoring this season, is always going to get his points the way that superstar players like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James always do. But even they couldn't do it alone.
For the Rockets to become a playoff team as the second half of the season approaches and the heat really gets turned up in the West, Lin's play will be the difference maker as to whether Houston can finally snap that three-season steak of playoff-less seasons. The success of both Harden AND Lin are the key components to a successful rebuilding process that began in 2010.
Part of Houston's problem this season has been their youth and inexperience. At times, they are so eager to score that they get sloppy and make turnovers because of their swift, over-aggresive attacks that put into question, every now and then, the efficiency of this up-tempo approach.
Latinos Post launched an online poll asking its readers to vote on whether the Rockets should keep its speed and pace. Surprisingly, 92.5 percent of 800 voters voted "yes, up-tempo should be kept" and this result reinforces the idea that the Rockets do need to improve many aspects of their game, just not in the speed department for now. Meaning, Lin should continue to be aggressive. [Poll Results Down Below]
When Lin takes double figures in shot attempts, he ends up making meaningful contributions on offense, almost always scoring in double-digits. When that number goes below ten, however, he ends up having a quiet night on offense.
That won't do.
If Lin continues to score in double digits, take more shots and drive to the lane with the same reckless abandon that he did in games against San Antonio, Los Angeles and New York, between him and Harden, the Rockets will have the most feared scoring backcourt in the NBA.
And with defenses looking to try and stop Lin and Harden, that leaves the floor wide open to pass to guys like Carlos Delfino, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, who can also score capably and in bunches when the opportunity is right.
And when everyone is scoring, Houston's lightspeed, league-leading offense (106.8 points per night) can blow right past many opponents. (They still have to work on their defense, but that's another story.)
If the season ended today, Houston would be seeded sixth in the West for the NBA Playoffs, a vast improvement for a team that finished fourth in their division with a 34-32 record and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
And the top reason for this improvement lies in Lin and Harden, Houston's new Dynamic Duo that has been setting the West on fire with their fast-paced, constantly kinetic style of running offense, all hard drives and nonstop motion.
But to keep that pace going, Lin has to hold up his end of the bargain and be the player fans have expected him to be.