The grueling January schedule is finally over, and the fact that Houston still remains a playoff team after that is something to celebrate. However, the February schedule is not particularly easy either. While Houston will only play 11 games in 28 days as opposed to the ludicrous 17 games in 31 days of January, only four of those games will be against teams currently not in the playoff race.
The first game will be among the easiest opponents of the month. After a good 7-5 start, the Charlotte Bobcats have collapsed and are tied for the worst record in the league with the Wizards. It is a team which possesses interesting potential, but only potential as they have won 2 of their last 12 games.
In many ways, this should be an easy, expected victory for the Rockets. They will be at home, will be rested after their defeat against the Nuggets, and are against a massively inferior opponent. However, not more than 2 weeks ago, Houston noticeably struggled against Charlotte on the road, trailing for most of that game before they pulled off a narrow 100-94 victory at the very end. The Rockets have rebounded since then, but the defense of Bismack Biyombo and the surging Kemba Walker will likely make sure that this game doesn’t become too easy.
Jeremy Lin vs. Kemba Walker
In the last game, Walker relentlessly torched Lin for a career high 35 points and shot 6-7 from deep despite possessing only an average 3PFG% for the season. Lin in turn was largely ineffective against Walker as he finished with only 5 points in 24 minutes. Walker last year turned in a rookie season that almost but not quite reached Austin Rivers level in offensive incompetence, but has managed to turn it around nicely even if the Bobcats as a whole have not significantly improved.
I would like to take a quick moment to discuss one of the common complaints about McHale, namely the usage of Lin in the late 3rd or 4th quarter or whenever. Much of the problem with Lin discussions from my perspective comes from the unfortunate idea that he is the “2nd option” behind Mr. Harden, when in reality Lin is just one of many good players behind Harden. The 2nd option on any night can be Lin, but it may also be Parsons or even Delfino on one of his hot nights or sometimes another player. If one looks at Lin from this perspective, then I think it’s no longer a crucial game-altering phenomenon when he does not play, as there have been moments when the other options behind Harden have not played either.
James Harden vs. Gerald Henderson
The Beard is the Beard. Gerald Henderson may be putting up a decent season for a wingman as he averages 12 points a game, but he is no James Harden
Chandler Parsons vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Kidd-Gilchrist was never highly touted for his offense coming out of the draft, but he has not scored double digits for the past 8 games and shot under 40% in January. Parsons in the meantime has continued to impress throughout his sophomore campaign as he arguably was the best player on the team during the losing streak and shot nearly 50% for the month. His name will almost inevitably be mentioned here and there during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but Morey does not make deals just to make deals.
Patrick Patterson vs. Jeff Adrien
The good news is that Patterson’s jumper has been falling again and he’s even banged in the post a few times during the last few games, something I really haven’t seen out of the power forward this season as he sat on the three point line. Unfortunately, his rebounding remains as miserable as ever. Patterson is better than Adrien, so it will be nice to possess the advantage at the starting 4 slot for once.
Omer Asik vs. Bismack Biyombo
Biyombo was a force in the last game against Houston as he had 7 blocks in the game, all of them against Lin and Harden. However, Asik over the last 3 game has grabbed a ludicrous 53 rebounds as he continues to prevent the Rockets from falling completely apart defensively.