Harden is always the heart of the Rockets' attack, but that is going to be especially true in Game 5 as Houston tries to cope with the injury to Jeremy Lin and gain more traction in a series where it trails 3-1.
Due to a chest injury, Lin was not on the floor for the Rockets' 105-103 win, and there is a chance it will continue to keep him out. CSN Houston's John Kelly informs us that Lin's status for Game 5 is still up in the air.
Lin has not been at his best in this series. He is shooting just 25 percent from the floor while averaging 4.3 points. However, the Rockets sorely missed his presence in the backcourt.
Of course, the Thunder won't be worrying about the Rockets' injury situation. They have their own issues as they try to cope with Russell Westbrook's permanent absence from these playoffs.
However, Westbrook's absence has simply leveled the playing field here for the otherwise over-matched Rockets.
If the Rockets are going to take advantage of Westbrook's absence, James Harden is going to have to be better.
He is averaging a solid 25.3 points per game in this series. However, without Lin in the lineup last game, Harden was clearly pressing.
He wound up with just 15 points while going 4-of-12 from the floor. There was also this disturbing facet of his game, as ESPN Stats & Info tweeted:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
James Harden: 10 turnovers (not assists!) ... 1 shy of NBA single-game playoff record2013-4-30 04:13:34
With Lin either out or trying to cope with his injury, a bigger burden is placed on Harden to handle the ball. Obviously, this makes him more susceptible to turnovers. However, 10 is far too excessive.
The Rockets overcame that in Game 4 with 27 points from Chandler Parsons and an all-around balanced scoring effort, and a missed lay-in by Serge Ibaka.
But I don't think the Rockets want to bank on Parsons getting close to 30 every night.
Harden has to be better. He has to do a better job of taking care of the rock and being a more efficient scorer.
Otherwise, Jeremy Lin will have all offseason to heal.