If James Harden is the unquestioned leader of the Houston Rockets, backcourt-mate Jeremy Lin is the team's biggest key this postseason as the eighth-seeded Rockets get set to face off against the Goliath Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round this April.
While both Harden and Chandler Parsons are averaging more points per game than Lin this season, the third-year point guard carries a larger burden as one of the primary ball-handlers and decision-makers for Houston.
The Rockets' leading assist man, Lin is handing out six assists per night on average this season and attempting roughly 11 shots per game.
But he has played above average in three starts against the Thunder this season, averaging 7.3 assists per game and shooting an improved percentage from the floor.
If Harden is the superstar that must lead the way for Houston in this series, then Lin is the sidekick that he can't afford to be without. The Rockets can bank on Harden scoring over 25 points per game. Kevin McHale can't be so sure that Lin will even score double figures, however.
While the Rockets were the second-highest scoring team in the NBA this season, averaging roughly 106 points per game, the Thunder were right behind them, posting the same impressive numbers offensively in 2012-13.
Even worse, Oklahoma City averaged a ridiculous 121 points per game against Houston in three games during the regular season. That means that Lin's performance offensively, in addition to his effort on the defensive end against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder's perimeter players, will be the biggest key for the Rockets in this first-round series.
Houston doesn't stand a chance of taking four games from Oklahoma City this spring if Harden is forced to take over every game. It will take a team effort on the defensive end, but, more importantly, it will take an incredible individual effort from the Rockets' floor general in order to provide Houston with a dynamic duo capable of matching the Thunder's greatness on the offensive end.
Even if McHale and the Rockets place added emphasis on the defensive end of the court, it's still unlikely that 106 points will be enough for Houston to win a single game in this series.
The Rockets will need the April 2013 version of Jeremy Lin in this series if they are to pull off the upset. If Lin can average 17 or more points and seven or so assists per game on 36 percent (or better) shooting from beyond the arc against Oklahoma City, Houston will have a real shot at accomplishing the unthinkable and advancing to the next round.
Otherwise, the Rockets will be headed for an early offseason.
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