The Houston Rockets have one of the most-talented young backcourts in the league this year, and the duo of James Harden and Jeremy Lin have performed well thus far. Add on the unknown defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley and you have a backcourt that is capable of taking the team deep into the playoffs.
In the first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, opposing point guard and matchup nightmare Russell Westbrook is the sole reason why the Thunder's backcourt kept up with the Rockets' backcourt for the first two games of the series.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus and is out indefinitely.
Not only is Westbrook's injury a major turning point in this series, but it also changes the entire landscape of the Western Conference playoff contenders.
Without Westbrook in the Thunder's backcourt, you're looking at a backcourt composed of Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher. By no means are they bad players, as they helped the team secure the top seed in the Western Conference, but they don't look as intimidating without Westbrook playing alongside them.
Martin is the biggest threat on offense, but the other three members of the Thunder backcourt won't strike fear into anyone's eyes.
The Thunder ended up muscling out a closely contested victory in game 2 to gain a 2-0 series edge over the Rockets, but the final couple of games in this series should be very interesting.
Jeremy Lin has underperformed in the first two games before sitting out with a chest contusion in game 2, so now it's his opportunity to prove his value to the team with no Westbrook to compete with. It was obvious that Lin was being man-handled by Westbrook in the two games they've played and during the regular season as well, but the door is wide open for Lin if he's available to play tonight.
In the two games, Lin has averaged 5.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG and 3.5 APG with 3.0 turnovers in 26 minutes per game. Those numbers are well below his season averages, and even Beverley performed much better in the minutes that he was given. If the Rockets want to win the series, they will need Lin to at least match his regular season production, or else they'll be sent home sooner than later.
On the other hand, Harden has been incredibly inefficient so far. He's still scoring at an exceptional rate of 28.0 PPG, but he's doing so on just 34.9 percent shooting from the field and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc. Although it's been Sefolosha defending Harden most of the time, Harden will have a matchup advantage on every switch because no other backcourt member could defend him now.
For the Rockets, the series starts and ends with their backcourt production. The rest of the role-players will do their thing, but the performances of Harden and Lin will ultimately dictate the outcome of this series.