Preview: New York Knicks @ Houston Rockets

It’s been a bad week for Linsanity. He’s missed critical shots before, but now he’s missing critical game time. In the past two games, interim head coach Kelvin Sampson has chosen to sit the $25m dollar Lin in favor of another ex-Knick, Toney Douglas. Despite the criticism levied against him by Rockets fans, Douglas has somehow justified himself to the coaching staff through shooting and something that looks like defense. Jeremy’s getting frustrated, and maybe even demoralized, and it only seems to be hurting his shot further.

Now he has to go up against his old team. In their only visit to Houston this season, the stunningly successful New York Knicks hope to further their surprise hot streak at the struggling Rockets’ expense.

Given the last twenty or so years of these two franchises, that’s an unexpected and painful sentence to read for a Rockets fan. Lately, both teams have been struggling to stay north of the .500 mark. Houston had to work with a starless cast of role players, while New York acquired two high level talents in Carmelo Anthony and Amare’ Stoudemire. The result for the Knicks has been national attention and first round playoff exits. The Rockets have not had either since 2009.

Then, last season, things got stranger. We all know the story. Ex-Rocket (and ex-Warrior) Jeremy Lin took the floor for the Knicks and exploded into a comet made of dreams and pick and rolls. until the Miami Heat and later an unfortunate groin injury ended his streak, he suddenly became world famous. The whole planet wondered if he could continue Linsanity into the following season.

But then he became a Rocket again, and his relevance in the states plummeted. Seeking out a contract in his restricted free agency, Lin assumed he would be re-signed by the Knicks. He assumed this because this what they told him they would do. And he did it because they told him to find his market value. But what they didn’t want him to do was let Rockets general manager Daryl Morey increase that value by a few million at the last second. Knicks owner James Dolan declined to match the offer and keep Lin, apparently out of a feeling of betrayal. The Knicks, as they always do, shot themselves in the foot.

This time, it looks like the foot was a problem. The Knicks, with an unexpected tandem of Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd at the point, have been blisteringly successful. They were the last team to lose a game in the NBA, and now sport a truly impressive 8-2 record. This also comes despite (or perhaps because) Stoudemire is injured yet again. Notorious volume shooter and offensive black hole Carmelo Anthony seems to have accepted his role in Mike Woodson’s offense. He’s more efficient than ever, and he’s playing at power forward. Kidd has rescued the Knicks multiple times, and the whole group looks like a well-oiled machine.

The Rockets, however, are a different story. Making roster choices based on spite and putting together one of the oldest rosters in history seems to be a winning formula this year, while Daryl Morey’s much discussed advanced stats and market inefficiencies have produced an underperforming player worth $8m a year and a losing record. The Rockets sitting at 5-7 so far isn’t raising many eyebrows outside of Houston, as they’re the youngest team in the league since acquiring James Harden mere days before the season. However, they’ve struggled in every aspect of the game so far, and the uphill road only gets tougher.

The team that Morey’s seemingly swindled multiple times now comes to Houston, apparently stronger for all of it. Lin and Douglas are likely to have something to prove. And if we’re lucky, Lin will get back some of that old fire against his old teammates. In a turn I wouldn’t have expected, the Knicks really do look like an elite team, at least for the moment. The Rockets no doubt have the brighter future, but the present is grim.

There are flaws in the Knicks’ game, however. They’re among the worst teams in the league in rebounds, and that’s somewhere the Rockets are liable to punish them. Omer Asik is one of the top rebounders in the NBA, and the rest of the team is very active, especially on the offensive glass. The Knicks also succeed most when hitting a large volume of threes, which as we all know is often unreliable. The problem is that the Rockets remain poor at guarding the arc, despite a dismal performance from the Bulls on Wednesday.

The Rockets are hopefully energized by the win against the Bulls, and still need a win badly. While it’s hard to see the Knicks rolling over, this game has the potential to be close and exciting, no matter who wins. Everyone’s going to be talking about Lin vs the Knicks, and with good reason. But players like Harden and Parsons may end up stealing the show, and that might be a good thing. It’ll be a must-see for Rockets and Knicks fans alike, no matter what.

Tip-off is at 7:00 pm Central time, Friday, November 23.

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[video] Jeremy Lin benched in crunch time, speaks postgame