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Early Predictions for Jeremy Lin's 1st Playoff Series

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 20, 2016

Early Predictions for Jeremy Lin's 1st Playoff Series

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    Has there ever been a more captivating ride than the one Jeremy Lin took the sports world on during a magical two months last season?

    He went from obscurity to global icon, from the end of the New York Knicks bench to the apex of Madison Square Garden. He was everywhere you looked—yet if you blinked you may have missed it.

    His meteoric surge, which started with a 25-point, seven-assist effort on Feb. 4, 2012, reached near mythical proportions when it came crashing down as ferociously as it had started. 

    A knee injury brought his season to an abrupt end in late March, and he swapped his iconic blue and orange threads over the summer for the red and white unis of the Houston Rockets.

    Lin hasn't enjoyed nearly the same reception during his first full season as an NBA starter. Any mentions of him as a global icon are confined strictly to the past tense nowadays.

    Yet one could logically assume that it's this season, a year of both regression and recognition, that will emerge as his greater achievement. Like his Knicks team from a year ago, these Rockets are playoff-bound.

    And unlike last season, he'll be one of the major factors in determining his club's postseason fate.

    Sans crystal ball, I can't tell you exactly how Lin the playoff performer will look. But there are already some hints as to how this may turn out.

Expect a Linsanity-Esque Performance Along the Way

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    They haven't come as frequently and certainly aren't packaged nearly as compact, but Lin has still enjoyed his fair share of monster efforts this season.

    He's reached the 20-point mark 15 times on the year, averaging nearly 7.5 assists and 1.5 steals in those games (via basketball-reference.com). He dropped a season-high 38 points (on 11-of-21 shooting) in an overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs back in December, the same team Lin's Rockets will be facing in the opening round assuming the current standings hold true.

    The book on slowing him down hasn't changed much this season. If teams can keep him out of the paint and hold him to perimeter efforts, chances are the 33.1 percent career three-point shooter's impact will be minimal.

    But he's also no longer the first priority for opposing defenses; that would be teammate James Harden (25.9 PPG). And he might not even be item No. 2 on the opponent's checklist as Chandler Parsons has been both a better scorer (15.3 PPG to Lin's 13.2) and shooter (48.1 FG% to his 44.5).

    He's no longer seen as a go-to scorer by any stretch, but he's far too talented for defenders to leave him open.

He Won't Increase His Workload

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    From a competitive standpoint, Lin can't be rooting for reserve guard Patrick Beverley. After all, the two share a position and coach Kevin McHale has paired his point guards for a total of 66 minutes on the year (via NBA.com).

    On a personal level, though, it's hard to imagine Lin not sympathizing with his understudy. Beverley enjoyed a successful two-year career at the University of Arkansas, which included both Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy nominations, but was greeted with a lukewarm NBA reception.

    He spent the past four seasons playing overseas before the Rockets plucked him out of the Russian Professional Basketball League on a multi-year contract in January.

    Beverley's not your typical rookie, although he's not quite Pablo Prigioni either, and perhaps that's what saved him from the kid gloves McHale typically handles his rookies with. His D-League career lasted little more than a week, and he's become a fixture in Houston's rotation of late.

    But Lin has to careful letting his emotions enter this discussion, as Beverley's already cutting into his playing time. After averaging fewer than 16 minutes a game over his first 27 contests, Beverley has logged better than 20 minutes in eight of his last 10 games, and Lin's minutes have fallen under 30 a night over the same stretch (via basketball-reference.com).

    Beverley is a better perimeter shooter than Lin (38.4 percent on the season). But his tenacious defense will be his ticket to even more minutes with a potential matchup looming with some of the league's elite point guards.

He'll Have at Least 2 Double-Doubles

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    Thanks to stat-stuffers like Rajon Rondo, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, double-doubles have lost a bit of their luster. But when they're tallied by a scoring point guard who shares the backcourt with a ball-dominant creator, they're still a notable accomplishment. 

    Lin has eight double-doubles on the season, meaning he's reached that figure in just over 10 percent of his games. With no more than seven opportunities to hit those numbers, statistics say he'd be lucky if he gets one.

    But he showed the world something last year when he went from the most humbling of beginnings to his career and took over the Mecca of the hoops world. He showed that there is no moment too great for him, no stage too grand to work his ice-cold nerves.

    Not to mention that two of those aforementioned eight double-dips have come in his past five games, a stretch that's seen him post 18.4 points (with a 47.9 field-goal percentage) and 8.6 assists (against 2.4 turnovers, via basketball-reference.com).

    At a time of the season when so many of his peers are wearing down—that's the laundry list of names on the injury report talking, not me—Lin looks like he's just getting started.

He'll Have to Fight for Crunch-Time Touches

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    Players like having a defined role, even if it's not the one that they feel best suited to fill.

    So teams like to define their closing lineups early in the season, and if that five-man group features a designated go-to scorer, it's even better.

    The Rockets have long ago flashed their closing card. If there's a big shot to be had, Harden's taking it every time.

    And for good reason, too. He's scored the sixth-most points (120) in the NBA in clutch situations (last five minutes of a five-point game), despite logging the fourth-fewest such minutes (128) of any of the top-20 clutch scorers (via NBA.com).

    For comparison's sake, Lin has logged just 93 clutch minutes on the season and has 53 points to show for it.

    Lin has proven himself capable of taking and making clutch shots (he's 51.7 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from three), but Harden's uncanny ability to get himself to the free-throw line leaves him as McHale's obvious closer.

The Series Won't End Well for the Rockets

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    Houston's officially in the dance for the first time in four seasons, but they don't yet know who their partner will be.

    The top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket is no more set in stone than the bottom half, so the Rockets may not know who they'll face until the final night of the regular season.

    Regardless of which team they'll match up with, though, the Rockets will be facing an uphill climb out of the opening round.

    Houston can't rule out any of the top five seeds out West at this point, but it's hard to pinpoint who its desired matchup would be. The Los Angeles Clippers have drawn the least favorable discussion of the bunch, but L.A. took the season series with Houston two games to one.

    In fact, the Rockets don't have a winning record against any of the top five seeds. They're winless against the Denver Nuggets and 3-7 against the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Not to mention they'll have to win at least one game on the road to advance, which is far from a guarantee considering Houston is just 16-23 away from home on the season.

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