Gigantic expectations have been placed on Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin after his breakthrough to stardom last season, and he hasn't lived up to the hype just yet. But in Sunday's showdown in the Staples Center with the Lakers, expect Lin to have his best performance to date with his new squad.
It's difficult to forget, but worth noting nonetheless: just ahead of the regular-season opener, GM Daryl Morey orchestrated a trade to bring in former Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard James Harden to Houston.
Having not had any time to play with his new teammate starting alongside him in the backcourt, Lin has had to adjust on the fly. Harden is technically a 2-guard, but likes to have the ball in his hands up top as well. That is something the explosive duo is continuing to work through in the early part of the season.
Harden got off to an insanely scalding start, and is still running strong in putting up nearly 27 points per game. Against L.A., though, he will be matched up with either Kobe Bryant or Ron Artest, which will prove to be his most difficult defensive test to date.
Meanwhile, Lin will benefit from the Lakers' thin point guard position and likely will go up against the likes of Chris Duhon and Darius Morris—neither particularly known for their defensive prowess.
That is, unless Steve Blake can play. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times reported via Twitter that Blake will be game-time decision, and that newly hired head coach Mike D'Antoni plans to make his debut on Sunday:
Mike D'Antoni tabbed Steve Blake as a game time decision. D'Antoni plans to coach tomorrow— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) November 17, 2012
D'Antoni isn't known for his defensive schemes, and the quickened pace of the game from his "Seven Seconds or Less" offense should suit Lin's style very well.
Although he is only shooting .355 from the floor in the first nine games, Lin is proving to be more of an efficient distributor than he was with the Knicks. He averages 6.7 assists to 2.6 turnovers per contest, which is a far cry from a season ago when he posted an assist-turnover ratio of 6.2 to 3.6.
Can the Rockets make the playoffs this season?
It's early, so that ratio may slightly worsen—but his shooting percentage should substantially improve.
For a young player who scrapped his way just to get an opportunity in New York after graduating from Harvard, there has always been a chip on Lin's shoulder. Dismissing his hot streak from a year ago and saying he can't ever get it done seems irresponsible. But there is something else driving Lin as well: his ethnicity.
That perhaps is the most effective fuel of all during his rapid rise to fame, as he recently conveyed to Yahoo! NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski:
I've always been a target. Everyone looks me and says, "I'm not going to let that Asian kid embarrass me. I'm going to go at him." That's how it's been my whole life. This has been different, though. Now, I was on the scouting report. People started to pay attention to what I could and couldn't do...I'm not saying I get everyone's best shot, but I would say people don't want to be embarrassed by me because of my skin color.
Pretty powerful stuff to doubt with a lot of conviction. Lin is clearly fired up and determined to make an impact, and now has the help of Harden to soften the burden of expectations.
All that said, Lin has never shied away from the big stage. Time and time again, he lit up Madison Square Garden during the "Linsanity" craze.
In the star power atmosphere of LA, expect Lin to take advantage of inferior defenders and put up his best game of the young 2012-13 season.