Even More Important for Lin to be THE Floor General this Season

Last season I wrote a post about how Rockets are more dangerous with the ball starting out in Lin’s hands during end of game situations. Well, this season, with the addition of Dwight Howard and the emergence of Parsons as a near All-Star, it is even more critical for the ball to start out in Lin’s hands not just in end-of-game situations, but for the majority of the game. The reasons I gave in the post I referred to last year become magnified even more now that we have two superstars and a near All-Star in Parsons.

Harden is an elite scorer, but Lin is still a better floor general. Lin is all about the ball finding the optimal scoring situation, whereas Harden is more about scoring the ball himself. But the Rockets are no longer a one-man team (not that I thought it was last season). Now we have four great scorers in our starting lineup (Harden, Howard, Lin, Parsons), so we need to have the ball in the hands of the guy who’s all about the ball finding the optimal scoring situation, Lin. Lin was like this even back in high school. This is the creed that Lin lives by as a baller. Also, as the season progresses, I’m sure Howard is going to figure out that he’ll have more opportunities to score if the does PnRs with Lin vs. Harden, since Lin is an even more willing passer than Harden is. So if McHale wants to make Howard happy, he should let Lin be the main distributor. I just hope McHale figures all of this out. If not, then Rockets won’t be as good as everyone expects them to be this year. But if they do figure this out and Lin’s usage rate surpasses Harden’s then Rockets will be in the Western conference finals and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up winning the whole thing this year. It always takes time to gel, of course, but they’ll gel much quicker if Lin is allowed to be THE floor general. I just have very little confidence that McHale will let Lin do what Lin does best. I think it’s more likely that McHale will decrease Lin’s role even more and let Beverly take away even more minutes from Lin this season. Let’s hope McHale wakes up.

A recent article, pointed out to me by one of our readers CH, speaks to the importance of letting Lin be the main distributor on the team. I have written about many of the points that this writer makes in his article, so just wanted to highlight it for you all who may have not seen the article. I’m glad to see someone in the somewhat mainstream media echoing a lot of things that I’ve been writing about here.

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Rockets Put in a Valiant Team Effort to Take Care of Business and Push a Game 6

This is how I expected Game 4 to go. With Harden back in form, Rockets did what I expected them to do in Game 4. But I did not expect the hobbled Rockets to win Game 5. Things didn’t look good at all before Game 5 started: Harden was under the weather, Lin was still unlikely to play and Asik is still dealing with back issues. I expected guys like Sefolosha to step up and I expected Martin to have a solid game. But OKC played without any energy and no one else but Durant (and later Jackson) could get anything going. Rockets, on the other hand, had pretty much every player going. Parsons had a poor shooting night, after a stellar performance in Game 4 and Smith, again, didn’t do much (but he also didn’t play much). Delfino had to leave the game with an injured foot or something. But Harden was back in form and got his shot back. He nailed his first 7 threes (tying an NBA playoff record held by Robert Horry) and ended up shooting 7 of 9 from three point. He hasn’t had a shooting night this good for like over a month or so. Ended up with a very efficient 31 points (10 of 16 from the field) with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and ONLY 3 turnovers. Asik, due to OKC’s fourth quarter Hack-Asik strategy ended with 21 points on 13 of 18 free throws (that has to be a record for Asik) and 4 of 6 from the field. Garcia was the third leading scorer with 18 points. He helped keep Durant scoreless in the fourth quarter, which is the first time Durant has ever been scoreless in the fourth quarter in the playoffs in his NBA career! In all, every single Rockets player was in double figures, except for Smith and Delfino, who barely played. So it was a great team effort. This is the way the Rockets have to play. Just keep the ball moving, keep bodies moving and be aggressive on the defensive end. I think they played their best defense tonight–at least the best that I can remember.

I thought OKC would get over their overcompensation for losing Westbrook, but it looks like they’re still scrambling. Their over-reliance on Durant is really shooting the confidence of their other players. Kevin Martin went 1 of 10 from the field, which is pretty much unheard of for him. I hope OKC continues to stick with their panicked strategy and keep their focus on Durant. The more Durant gets the ball at the top of the key, the better, in my opinion. But I can’t blame them for their strategy, because his teammates really struggled.

I’m sure Rockets fans were thrilled to see Brooks play some major minutes. He went 4 of 11 from the field, so not very good, but did provide a lot of energy. Beverley also had a pretty solid contribution with 14 points and 8 rebounds, but only had 1 assist in 39 minutes. Brooks had 3 assists in 19 minutes. So, for those who think the Rockets don’t need Lin, I think they’re of the mindset that 1 good thing that Beverly does = 4 good things that Lin does and 1 good thing that Brooks does = 16 good things that Lin does. I think it’s more over-enthusiasm that these guys haven’t dropped the ball in Lin’s absence, but Rockets do need Lin. Right now, they’re playing playground ball and are able to get away with it. Also, without Westbrook, Lin isn’t needed as much for this match up, since Beverly and Brooks can compete with Fisher and Jackson. I’m sure McHale isn’t in too much of a hurry to have Lin back and if they can win without Lin, then that’s great, because they’ll need Lin healthy for the next series.

What’s awesome about the Rockets, and what makes them so fun to watch, is that they play team ball. This is why the last few games of the season were so painful to watch, because they went into Harden Hero Ball mode. This Rockets team has a lot of players who can step up at different times. This is what makes them so dangerous. Rockets played with so much confidence tonight. As long as they continue to play with this much confidence, yet with a lot of hunger and energy and continue to play team ball, they have a great chance of pulling off something that’s never been done before in the NBA. Already, they’ve become only the 14th team in NBA history to force a Game 6 after being down 3-0. According to Ultimate Rockets, there has been 109 series that have started out 3-0. I find that pretty hard to believe that only 14 teams have forced a game 6 down 3-0. And I’m amazed that no team has come back down 3-0 in NBA history. I mean, you figure in all those years, some team must have done it. Rockets have a great shot, now that they’ve got the momentum. They need to stay hungry and not let up. OKC is scrambling and as long as OKC continues to scramble, Rockets have the best chance of doing the impossible. They’re in a great situation now, as long as different players continue to step up. I have a feeling Brooks will get even better in the next game and he’ll have to step up, since I’m pretty sure Lin will still be side-lined. I don’t think McHale trusts Lin enough to put him back in, even if Lin is healthy, because McHale doesn’t want to mess with the lineup right now.

NOTES: The smart play award goes to Harden with the play where he waited until the ball went across half-court to touch it and then launched a quick three so Rockets could get a 2 for 1 possession. That’s some high basketball IQ right there. And Asik gets kudos for not crumbling under pressure and sending a message to Scott Brooks that they need to come up with something better than Hack-Asik.

Rockets are still alive! I didn’t think it would happen, but what a great feeling as a fan. Time to make history!

McHale’s Gamble Almost Pays Off, Rockets Almost Steal Game 2

After getting blown out in game 1, McHale decided to try something new and insert Beverley in the lineup, going very small. Analysts thought he was out of his mind, but McHale’s out of the box thinking ended up working out and Beverley provided a lot of energy and ended up with a double-double in his first playoff start (16 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers). Harden also ended up with a double-double (36 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 turnovers, 1 steal). Lin didn’t play in the second half due to a shoulder contusion. No update on Lin so far.

The ball movement was good, tonight. It’s been a while since I’ve seen good ball movement by the Rockets. I can tell that McHale drilled ball movement in during practices, because the players definitely made an effort to get the ball moving from side-to-side. They also made the extra pass to night–especially in the first half. Things got bogged down a bit in the second half without Lin and it got even worse when Beverley had to sit with 4 fouls. Beverly ended up playing 41:13 minutes tonight, but he didn’t seem tired. That kid is full of energy. He reminds me of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh–constantly bouncing around. Also, he was not intimidated by his first playoff start. He just played his game. Harden did a slightly better job of playing within the offense, although, he still continues to settle quick threes. He was 1 for 7 from three tonight, so his shooting struggles continue. Another guy who’s still struggling with his shot is Delfino. He was 3 for 10 from three tonight. I’m still mystified why McHale continues to trust Delfino when he’s got a much more reliable Garcia. Garcia plays a very similar game to Delfino, but he is also taller, which is a definite plus. Garcia only played 6:29 minutes tonight, while Delfino was out there jacking up one missed three after another, wasting valuable possessions. But I can’t complain too much about McHale tonight, because he made the unconventional decision to start Beverley and it almost won the Rockets the game. Now it could also be because the Rockets got over the first game jitters, so they might have just been playing better. But Beverley was definitely a big factor for the Rockets tonight. He was everywhere and made a name for himself in the spotlight.

Even with the valiant effort by the Rockets, I expected a loss tonight. Even when the Rockets were up by 4 points on a three by Delfino with over 3 minutes left in the game, I fully expected OKC to come back and win the game. So I guess because I expected OKC to win, I just shrugged off the loss. It wasn’t a heart breaker to me like it should have been. But I’m sure Rockets fans are heartbroken, because Rockets were so close, then Durant took over and refs missed that foul committed by Perkins (I think) against Parsons, which left a wide open three by Sefolosha, putting OKC up by 4 with a minute left to go in the game.

So, lots of questions for game three. Is Lin going to be back? Is McHale going to go back to the unconventional lineup if Lin is back? Has McHale figured out how to beat OKC? At least with tonight’s game, the Rockets can come back home without their tails tucked between their legs. So that will make for a more fired up crowd.

Young Rockets Clinch Playoffs in One of the Oddest Finishes I’ve Seen

So, it’s official. The Rockets have clinched the playoffs. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me, as I wrote in a post back on October 29th that the Rockets are a LOCK to make the playoffs. I said this back when most analysts predicted that Rockets wouldn’t win more than 29 games. So ridiculous. The reason is because this Rockets team is full of Jeremy Lins and, as a result, analysts highly underrated their abilities at the time. I guess it was understandable that analysts would underrate this team, because many of the starters hadn’t started before and they are the youngest team in the NBA this season. Still, I was sure they’d make the playoffs, because I saw the talent in the guys. I also saw them as a bunch of players with really high basketball IQs, strong work ethic, great character and I knew they’d be able to mesh on the floor. I was also very optimistic of the Linharden synergy. I’m hoping that will get better next season as McHale learns to play Lin the way Lin is supposed to be played. We still haven’t seen the Linharden synergy in full effect.

Here’s a great write up on Rockets making the playoffs, by Jason Friedman from Rockets.com: http://www.nba.com/rockets/news/unexpected-journey

Tonight’s game was somewhat lackluster. Rockets played down to their competition somewhat and didn’t play much defense. The good thing that came out of it is that Smith and TJones are showing that they may be the answer to the Rockets Power Forward void just in time for the playoffs. Smith ended with 12 points, 5 rebounds and TJones finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds. These were two players I was very high on early in the season.   Asik also finished tying his career high 22 rebounds.

McHale didn’t do a very good job with the rotation tonight–especially when it comes to Harden. Once again, he played Harden to death by not giving him any rest in the second half. Yep, Harden played the ENTIRE second half. I kept waiting to see when McHale would give him some rest and then with the 8 minute mark rolled around in the fourth quarter I just shook my head, because I knew that McHale was going to stick with Harden the entire second half. I guess McHale really wanted to clinch the playoffs, so I can understand where he’s coming from. But I think it’s a mistake in thinking on his part, because I actually think it hurts the Rockets to not give Harden ANY rest–especially with Rockets high tempo of basketball. I thought McHale should have rested Harden in the beginning of the fourth for like three minutes or so, because I think Harden got sloppy in part due to fatigue. Harden almost had a double double with NINE turnovers. Yep, you read that correctly. This is what happens when you play a guy to death and don’t give him any rest. McHale better not pull this stunt in the playoffs, although, I’m sure he will. He just can’t seem to trust anyone but Harden in that position so McHale is going to play Harden to the ground in the playoffs. It’s just another one of McHale’s crazy fixations. I wish he understood the concept that you need fresh bodies to run and keep the pace up and also keep the ball moving and players moving, which is what Rockets basketball is all about. When players are tired, no matter how good they are, they stop moving the ball and they stop running. They also try and force shots, because they’re too tired to make good decisions and play optimally. And Harden is even more prone to that than most, because Harden tends to go into Hero Ball mode and this gets even more magnified when he’s fatigued.

Lin’s shooting was off tonight. I hope that’s an aberration, because he’s been shooting well for a while now. I noticed that he didn’t wear his arm guard. I wonder if that was a factor. Maybe he should start wearing his arm guard, although he had been shooting pretty well before that. But I think he shot even better with his arm guard–not just percentage wise, but the release and trajectory of the ball looked especially good in the games that he has been wearing his arm guard. Beverly played well tonight and I thought McHale was going to bench Lin in the fourth, because of how well Beverly was playing. And I have to say that I think that would have been fine with that decision tonight. Not that Lin was playing terribly, but Lin didn’t really have it tonight and I thought Beverly brought a lot of energy. What I would have preferred is for Harden to get some rest and for McHale to play Lin and Beverly together for some of the fourth to give Harden some rest. Anyway, I was surprised McHale went back with Lin. It ended up being a good decision, because Lin did tie the game up and Harden finished with a horrible shot that wouldn’t have made it, but Rockets caught a lucky break on a goal tending call against the Suns. That ball had no chance of going in. What a heart breaker for Suns fans, although I doubt they care too much about their season. But still. You hate to lose that way. In the playoffs, McHale has to come up with some better plays than to just iso Harden every time. He has to mix it up.I’ve said this before. I actually think Rockets are more dangerous with the ball STARTING OUT in Lin’s hands during clutch time, than Harden’s because when Harden has the ball–especially during clutch time, all four Rockets players end up just standing around ball-watching. So Rockets essentially become a one-man weapon. When it’s in Lin’s hands, players continue to move around, because they don’t expect Lin to just go iso. Also, Lin is a better floor general than Harden and is better at finding the optimal play. When the ball starts out in Lin’s hands, it tends to end up in someone else’s hands, so Rockets have five weapons when the ball starts out in Lin’s hands. Now, I’m not saying that Lin should have the ball EVERY time down the stretch. What I am saying is that McHale needs to mix it up. This is especially important in the playoffs when you’re facing the same team multiple times and they start to learn your tendencies. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. I’m glad Rockets made it official today and clinched the playoffs, proving all analysts, coach McHale and nearly every Rockets fans wrong. Like I said, this Rockets club is full of Jeremy Lins. And what Jeremy Lin does best is to prove doubters wrong.

Rockets Hang in to Win a Huge Playoff-Atmosphere Game on the Road Against Golden State

I didn’t see the Dallas game, but from looking through forums like Dreamshake, it sounds like fans overwhelmingly disagreed with McHale’s decision to bench Lin. So looks like, unlike in the Orlando game, McHale made a mistake in benching Lin in the last game. I’m pretty sure Morey and Les weren’t happy with McHale’s decision either. Hopefully, learns from it.

Lin started off slow in tonight’s game. It’s probably the worst he’s played in a while, in terms of being too passive. I’ve been very happy with Lin’s play as of late, but in tonight’s game, he played passively in the first half. The thing that I’ve noticed about Lin, lately, is that he’s had a lot of really strong starts. He’s been playing better in the first half than in the second. Well, partly it’s because he’s been absent in the fourth quarter in the past three games. But he has been uncharacteristically strong at the beginning of games and then he slows down in the third quarter. Tonight, he started weak and turned things up in the third quarter. I have a feeling Lin’s ankle or something is bothering him, because Lin looked slow and he looked like he was recovering from an injury or something. He fell down a lot and didn’t have enough lift. That’s concerning. Hope he’s not injured or something.

Rockets have now taken three games from the Warriors. It was a huge game tonight and Rockets pulled it out. Rockets had a horrible second quarter (late in the first and into the second quarter)–one of the worst they’ve played in a while. There was no ball movement. Things did not look good in the second quarter and it looked like the Warriors wanted the game more and would be able to get the home win. But Rockets pulled it together in the second half with a spark from Lin in the beginning of the third quarter. He was scoring and making plays and put the Rockets ahead by 6 points. I missed a lot of the third quarter after that, so not sure what happened, but Warriors came back to take the lead. Then it stayed a tight game after that with both teams picking up the intensity. Of course, tonight, McHale didn’t dare bench Lin, so Lin got to play in the fourth quarter.

Parsons, once again, had a hot shooting game. He’s been on the last five or so games. I think he’s scored 20+ points 5 or so games in a row. He was a huge factor in keeping us in the game. Once again, McHale relies too much on Delfino. I actually like Garcia’s game more than Delfino and was happy to see Garcia in the game in the fourth quarter. But then McHale took Garcia out and replaced him with Delfino, which I thought was a mistake. Garcia is very aggressive defensively and he goes after loose balls. He also has range. I think he provides more than Delfino and he doesn’t have a bum elbow. Garcia is a guy I’d like to see play more and Anderson, too, of course. But with Garcia, Anderson has no hope of getting minutes. McHale really needs to reduce Delfino’s minutes drastically. We have too many players on the bench to deserve more minutes. Every time Garcia is in there, he works his tail off. And when Garcia is on the bench, he’s constantly standing up and cheering or coaching. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but he’s always so vocal on the bench. I think he’s a better veteran presence than Delfino. But McHale has some sort of blind love affair with Delfino, in which Delfino can do no wrong. It’s probably because Delfino was essentially the only veteran, but now that McHale has Garcia, I’m hoping he gains a more realistic perspective on Delfino’s game.

Harden has been off the mark ever since his ridiculous OKC performance. Looks like his knee is really bothering him. Doesn’t have the same explosiveness and he’s not finishing like he used to. In fact, the entire Rockets team missed a bunch of baskets at the rim tonight. It’s not the only time they’ve done that. Rockets will have games where they’ll do that in bunches. Tonight was one of those nights.

Tonight’s game was vital for playoff standings. I think Warriors needed this game more than the Rockets, because now the Rockets own the tie-breaker. Rockets showed a lot of grit by not folding after their horrible second quarter performance on the road. They kept hanging in there and did whatever they needed to pull out a win. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but a win’s a win. Our guys look banged up, though. So that’s a concern. Lin and Harden look like they’re playing hurt. Good thing they have an “easy” opponent tomorrow. But I have a feeling it won’t be an easy win. Phoenix have a lot of former Rockets who will be gearing up to get some revenge on their old team. Still, I expect a win. Would be psychologically damaging if we lost tomorrow after this big win. It would be like giving up this big win. Rockets still haven’t figured out their rotations, as to be expected. So that’s going to be an ongoing concern. Good thing they have a favorable schedule pretty much the rest of the way to the post-season, which includes a long home stretch, where they’ll have lots of much-needed practice time. I’ll be looking to see if McHale starts favoring Garcia over Delfino. I really hope so, because I really like what I’ve seen from Garcia’s limited minutes.

Kevin McHale is Just a Jeremy Lin Doubter. Nothing More. Nothing Less.

I just posted a video on my Jeremy Lin Channel. It’s a very long discussion about the whole McFale/Lin dynamic. Some of the things I say in the video, you’ll be familiar with if you’re a regular reader of this blog. There are some new insights, as well. Overall, though, I think it’s much more compelling when I’m able to actually play clips that I reference and that’s the luxury of making a video. If you enjoy the video, please feel free to spread the word. I’m hoping that, by putting my discussion of the McFale/Lin dynamic on YouTube, I am able to expose the message to a wider audience. So would appreciate any help I can get in this effort. I’m posting the video here for your convenience, but you can also go to the JeremyLintel Channel to view it: