Already having secured a playoff berth, the Houston Rockets have three more games to lock down the No. 4 seed in the West and at this critical juncture of the season point guard Jeremy Lin appears to have found a late-season groove to carry into the playoffs.
Injuries to center Dwight Howard and usual starting point guard Patrick Beverley have limited the Rockets as the regular season winds down, but Lin has re-discovered his offensive touch in the final month of the season to keep Houston near the top of the short list of title contenders.
In seven games in April, Lin has posted his second highest scoring month of the season at 14.3 points and 4.1 assists per game. He’s also proven deadly from three-point range at a 45.7 percent clip. The Rockets have a 3-4 record in April, but the uneven results have more to do with Howard’s absence on both sides of the floor than anything Lin has or hasn’t done.
The only knock against Lin so far this month has been his 2.6 turnovers per game, including the five giveaways in Friday’s narrow 112-110 road loss to Minnesota. But Lin has made up for his miscues by equaling his season-high of 1.3 steals per game.
More told, Lin looks like the same healthy player that began the season before a back injury limited his play and eventually resulted in Beverley usurping his spot in the starting lineup.
However, with the status of Beverley’s knee highly uncertain heading into the playoffs, Houston head coach Kevin McHale may turn to Lin as his second or third scoring option against likely first-round opponent Portland.
Should the Rockets fold in their last three games (two against New Orleans bookending one against defending West champ San Antonio), they still own the season series and tiebreaker over Golden State and in all likelihood will face Portland.
Beverley has missed the last eight games after re-injuring his knee against Philadelphia late last month. He’s considered Houston’s best perimeter defender, and unless he can stay healthy the Rockets initial playoff strategy might be to go shot-for-shot with the Blazers’s No. 3 ranked offense.
That’s where Lin can continue his hot streak alongside James Harden, while hoping to counteract Portland’s Damian Lillard, the reigning Rookie of the Year who has upped his scoring average to 20.9 points and his shooting nearly 40 percent from deep.
Lin has also played Portland very well during his career, averaging 11.9 points and 4.9 assists on 47 percent shooting from the floor.
Even if Beverley re-enters the lineup during the playoffs, Lin will still play a significant role against the Blazers and the entire postseason.