As the NBA exits the All-Star break, Houston holds a three-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Looming right behind them are the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks, two teams with plenty of postseason experience.
On a young roster with only one player over the age of 26, the Rockets could struggle down the stretch. This is not to say the talented team cannot keep up the current trend of winning, but it will be difficult.
Still, Lin is the key for the squad to reach the goal of the postseason this year.
The point guard came into the season with only 25 career starts in the NBA, all of which came during the magical "Linsanity" period with the New York Knicks last season. Amazingly, that makes him one of the most experienced players on the team.
Among the rest of the starters on the Rockets, only Chandler Parsons came into the year with more career starts; the small forward had 57 during his rookie year.
While James Harden was an integral part of the Oklahoma City Thunder's run to the NBA Finals last season, he still came off the bench in the majority of games.
Suddenly, the 24-year-old Lin had to become a leader.
So far, he has done well with the Rockets. Harden is by far the leading scorer on the team, but Lin averages a solid 12.6 points per game and a team-leading 6.2 assists per game.
In recent weeks, he has been even better. He has scored in double-figures in 10 of the last 11 games and is averaging 6.9 assists per game over that stretch. He was cutting down on turnovers and shooting very efficiently as well.
The only issue is that he has not been able to maintain that consistency throughout the year.
During January, Houston suffered a seven-game losing streak that was almost devastating to the season. In the losing streak, Lin shot poorly (made fewer than half of his shots in all but one game) and could not take care of the ball (had as many turnovers as assists in four contests).
This has become a theme for a player with defensive lapses and many poor-shooting games.
Lin has made a lot of improvements with his game this year, most importantly cutting down turnovers. These types of changes have gone a long way toward helping the Rockets be in position for the playoffs.
It also seems like the All-Star break came at a bad time as it will only slow down his recent hot streak of very good play.
However, Harden cannot do it all himself. Lin will need to be a steady secondary option to take some of the pressure off the All-Star.
The Harvard graduate is not going to perform in every game like he did against the Golden State Warriors this month with 42 points and 19 assists in two games. Still, great teams have great point guards that can handle things in a big moment.
If Lin can become that type of trustworthy presence for the Rockets, this squad will go a long way this season.
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