As promising as this young duo has been together, they each have their limitations. The Denver Nuggets assured us of that.
In Houston's loss to Denver, the scoring fiend that was Harden struggled to get into any kind of offensive flow. The Nuggets cut off his lane to the basket and forced him into a barrage of contested jumpers. He finished the game with just 15 points and three assists on 33 percent shooting.
Lin's night wasn't any easier. He too struggled to get to the basket, scoring just six points while dishing out six assists on 22.2 percent shooting. Though he and Harden also combined for 11 steals, they committed eight total turnovers and shot 0-of-9 from behind the arc as well.
No, it wasn't pretty. But it also wasn't a sign that these two were destined to fail together because they won't.
Lin alone was not fit to the lead the Rockets toward prominence. When paired with Harden, however, the team has potential—the first two games of the season alone are proof of this.
That said, after dropping two straight, it's clear that this budding pair needs some time to evolve. So while it's not time to hit the panic button, it is time to accept that, well, Harden and Lin need time.
The Rockets were never an overnight project. After holding an essential fire sale over the offseason, it was going to take years to build this team into a contender.
Then came Harden, who put up 35.3 points through the first three games and stretched defenses so thin that Lin—albeit quietly—showed semblance of an All-Star.
But, just as they always do, teams adjusted. More specifically, defenses adjusted.
Take Houston's first two games. Harden and Lin combined to score 115 points over those two contests—nearly 60 points a night. In the following two, however, they combined for just 56, less than half of the previous total.
No, Harden was never going to average over 40 points a night for the entire season, but he's not guaranteed to put up 25, either.
Opposing defenses are now cutting off the lane to the basket, forcing Harden and Lin to give the ball up. From there, it's just a matter of allowing the rest of Houston's inexperience to carom open shots off of the rim.
Keep in mind that Harden and Lin are 23 and 24, respectively, as well; they aren't established veterans. Both may have led their teams in college, but this is the NBA. Lin is still adjusting to life as a relevant entity while Harden has only just emerged—abruptly, I might add—from the shadows of two top-10 players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
It also doesn't help that the Rockets are in dire need of a competent low-post presence to stretch the floor for their dynamic backcourt. Omer Asik, with his 35.5-percent shooting from the field and painstakingly abhorrent touch around the rim, isn't going to cut it.
And neither is the rest of the supporting cast.
Sure, Houston's core is solid, but at 30, Carlos Delfino is the eldest member of the team. Though talented, raw athletes like Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons are still overwhelmingly—and thus counter-productively—prevalent.
The team as a whole still needs experience, including the two newest leaders. Houston didn't climb into the lottery overnight, and it's not going to escape it overnight, either.
Is a playoff berth possible?
As for Harden and Lin pulling the team out from the depths of mediocrity and into the realm of title contention? That's going to take more time.
Much more time.