For about 90% of this game, I could have pulled up my recent recap of our loss against the 76ers, changed a few names and statistics, posted it, and I doubt anyone would have noticed that something was amiss. The Rockets started off well and grabbed the lead, but a 5 minute stretch in the first quarter occurred where they utterly failed to even get up any shots and finished the quarter with 9 turnovers, which was made all the worse by the fact that Carlos Delfino seemingly decided to borrow a page from the Trevor Ariza school of driving to the rim ie. Lose the ball while doing so every single time. Combine that with the fact that Houston is one of the worst teams in the league at transition defense, and the result was a 19-0 Dallas run which would keep them ahead for the rest of the game.
From there, the pattern from the 76ers game largely repeated itself. Dallas held the lead, the Rockets would make a run to get close, but thanks to Mavericks free throws, an unusually large number of missed shots at the rim on Houston’s part, and timely jumpers, the Mavericks would pull away without relinquishing the lead. There were a few things of interest throughout the general body of the game, most notably the emergence of Patrick Beverley (more below), but it was almost boring in how predictable these runs became. Well, until the last run.
In a way, the last run was more of the same. The Rockets managed to tie the game at 97 with 90 seconds to go, but failed to close it out again and lost the game. But what was interesting was the person who managed to let the Rockets close an 11 point gap in little more than five minutes. Jeremy Lin has played particularly poorly during this losing streak, but tonight Linsanity reasserted itself during the 4th quarter.
The old pattern of Lin’s poor play did not change for much of the game. Lin was not quite as bad as Harden, as Harden easily submitted his worst performance of the season with a mere 20 points on 23 shots. But Lin’s game was generally passive. By the beginning of the 4th quarter, Lin had 5 points on 6 shots and had done little to impress, all the more apparent given the interest in Beverley’s strong performance. But halfway through the fourth quarter, Linsanity returned. Lin relentlessly drove to the rim against Mike James and the weak Dallas interior, scoring layups and free throws. As Dallas began to fire long 2’s like they did in the beginning of the first quarter, the defense rallied and the momentum turned in Houston’s favor as they tied the game.
However, missed free throws (while the Rockets as a whole shot decently from the free throw line, Beardsanity continued their relative struggles with a 15-22 performance) and a pair of blown opportunities by Harden proved to be Houston’s undoing. But in a scene which had not appeared often this season, Lin was forced to try to drag Harden to victory, instead of the other way around.
While many are undoubtedly frustrated by Harden’s attempts to take the lead as he waved off Lin, let us not criticize him too harshly given everything he has done this season. Harden missed almost everything he took, whether from the 3 point line or right next to the basket. He did manage to pass and rebound well to avoid the continual Dallas traps, but he had considerable difficulty in getting his shots to fall as they repeatedly rimmed out no matter where he took them. It was peculiar given how well Harden has shown himself to be at finishing at the rim, but it is reasonable to believe that it was a fluke and unlikely to happen again anytime soon. Thus, while a more normal performance from Harden likely would have sealed the victory, he has done enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. While Houston will be up against a difficult defensive team in Indiana next, I remain confident that Harden can turn things around battling a good opponent
- In a way, the most important result from this game was not the win or the loss in and of itself, but of the long-awaited emergence of a true backup point guard. While Patrick Beverley so far has played 15 more minutes in the NBA than I have, the fact that he currently posts a PER of over 100 shows that he has played extremely well over such a small sample size. Furthermore, Beverley has been incredibly aggressive on both offense and defense, making the appropriate passes whether to cutters or shooters, shot well ( he has yet to miss a shot in his short career), and played defense. While Beverley’s aggressiveness may be need to tempered down somewhat to avoid many of the unfortunate fouls that he committed in the third, I definitely feel more enthusiasm about his prospects to help Houston in the immediate future compared to Machado.
- While I have continually praised Mr. Harden and have argued that with time, he could very well become the third greatest Rocket in history behind Malone and Dream, the one scenario which has always worried me about him is the possibility of McHale running him into the ground. Three years ago, Amare Stoudamire was a MVP candidate for much of the early part of the season as he thrived under the Knicks, but D’Antoni used him relentlessly and Stoudamire is now a shell of his former self. There are of course innumerable differences between Mr. Harden and Stoudamire, but there are very few players in this league who play as many minutes as he does(8th in the league), and none in such a fast-paced system. One thing that may be hopeful of Beverley’s emergence is that he may help to shore up the incredibly thin wing depth as Toney Douglas transfers to the 2 fulltime, thus enabling Harden to obtain more of a rest. During a month with so many back to backs, that will become highly important.
- Anything that can be said about our power forwards, I have already said in previous recaps. They played marginally better tonight, but the fact that Delfino was the one guarding Dirk Nowitzki at the end of the game explains our situation better than any statistic ever could. However, I would like to take a moment to discuss one person who has been bandied about as an upgrade recently. While it is obvious that Josh Smith would help our rebounding ability considerably, there are other things to consider. Smith is 27, has played for 9 years, and has continued to remain the same player for the last several years. He possesses good rebounding and defensive instincts (though he does search for the blocked shot too often), but has problems of temperament and his fondness of stagnating offenses to launch more midrange jumpers. His recent suspension should not be viewed as a positive sign by Rockets interested in a trade, but as an understanding of the very real risks that could be made by obtaining him.
At this point, one cannot help but remember that at the end of last year, before a game late in the season against the Utah Jazz, Morey tweeted that a victory would almost assuredly mean a playoff spot. The Rockets lost the game, lost 5 more afterwards, and proceeded to earn the 14th pick again ( though it should be noted that Houston actually still would have made the playoffs if they had won that game against Utah). While the fact that the Trail Blazers are currently losing heavily to the Cavaliers indicates that the Rockets will be bumped up to the 8th seed by the time most of you read this recap, Houston has to seriously turn itself around now and fast if we are to avoid what occurred last year.