There were the initial two games at the beginning of the season, a few fleeting moments against Utah and Toronto and, of course, the 38-point outburst against San Antonio. Outside of those games, though, Linsanity for the Rockets has been noticeably absent.
Linsanity seemed destined to be a relic of Jeremy's past with the Knicks. It's appropriate, then, that it was the game against the Knicks in New York that sparked a revival in Jeremy's play.
It was a game that Jeremy was anxious about. The game that was on his radar for most of the year. He ended up having a great night—22 points and eight assists. This was a result of coach Kevin McHale figuring out how to best use Lin and James Harden together, Lin adjusting to his Houston teammates and him regaining his confidence.
The Rockets, as a result, have won six of their last seven games, including a current four-game winning streak.
Over the course of the last four games, it seems Jeremy has been playing as everyone had originally hoped in Houston. Since the game in New York, he's posted an average of just under 19 points and nine assists a game.
The combination of Lin and Harden has made Houston have one of the finest backcourts in the NBA; in fact, the Rockets are second in offense. But the reason for Lin's recent success is quite contradictory—he and Harden have been playing less with each other.
For the first 16 games of the season, Lin and Harden typically came out of and into the game at the same time. It makes perfect sense to rest your starters at the same time or put them back in together to build a lead or cut into a deficit, especially with such a heavily invested duo.
Unfortunately, that's where the problem lies. In order to excel, both players need the ball in their hands. They can both create off the dribble or penetrate and kick the ball out. However, as reported by SI's Rob Mahoney, and what is commonly agreed upon by many who watch the game, only one of the two can move well without the ball.
Lin has not been shooting well behind the arc. His dismal 29.3 percent shooting from three means that defenders won't guard him as closely. If Harden takes it to the bucket, Lin's defender will be closer to the bucket than he should, thus causing an unwanted congestion in the lane. Should Lin get the pass, even if it's an open one, it's not guaranteed points for the Rockets. Lin's missed three-pointers end up causing much more than three points for the team.
It came to a point in a few games where although Lin was still starting, backup point guard Toney Douglas was getting more playing time.
The solution, it seems, for Kevin McHale is to play Lin and Harden less together.
For the initial 16 games of the season, both Lin and Harden averaged only 11.5 minutes a game without their backcourt teammate, but the games afterward, up until the Knicks game (and not including the San Antonio game, where Harden did not play), their averages have ballooned to 22.1 minutes a game.
It's not the most perfect solution, since Jeremy will need to improve his long-range shooting to really help his team, especially in the postseason, but it's a solution that appears to be working at the moment.
Both players average better overall per 36 minutes without their backcourt teammate. Harden averages 21.6 points and 4.7 assists with Lin on the floor as well, but he's been putting up 27.1 points and 5.6 assists without Lin. Lin's numbers, though, are much more evident—10.7 points and 6.5 assists with Harden on the floor; 19.7 points and 7.5 assists without him.
Both players want to play better with each other, and by all accounts, the effort is there, but their skills often overlap. For now, outside of starting and finishing the game, Houston fans should get used to seeing the two play without each other.
The obvious benefit is that it has been allowing Lin to regain his confidence.
There are less out-of-control dribbles to the basket, and there's been less going in the air for a shot, only to attempt a poor pass at the last moment resulting in a turnover. More prominent now is Lin recognizing weaker defenders and taking advantage of them. There's also been an increase in the number of attempts he makes at driving to the basket.
Lin averaged only 2.6 free-throw attempts for the season; over the last four games, this has increased to 3.5 attempts. This is still far from the numbers he had in New York, but it's obvious that he is recognizing the driving opportunities when they are there.
Like so many other athletes, Lin's teammates have been improving as they adapt to his style, which is also making him better.
Omer Asik is not as athletically gifted as Tyson Chandler, so Lin's alley-oop option is gone. Asik, however, is consistently improving offensively. Gone are the bad layups. More commonplace now are dunks. With opponents respecting Asik's game more, they have to be more cautious of Lin's passes to Asik, thus opening up options for Lin.
The Rockets look poised to enter the postseason, and it appears that Lin has finally found his footing.
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