Jeremy Lin Struggles for Linspiration in Limited Role

The Houston Rockets ended a 7-game mid-season skid by pulling out a 100-94 win Monday against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats with little help from starting point guard Jeremy Lin.

Lin scored 4 points on 1-for-5 shooting and provided 3 assists in the day road game. He played just 24 minutes though he retained his starter spot following Saturday’s demoralizing 79-94 loss that ended the depleted Minnesota Timberwolves’ 10-game home losing streak. But it was Lin understudy Patrick Beverly who played the final 15 minutes to help Harden pull out the skid-ending win against the Bobcats.

Coach Kevin McHale is showing signs that he’s getting desperate to find new spark among the misfiring Rockets. In Minnesota he even tried benching three starters — Lin, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson — for the start of the second half, setting off speculation that he was through with Lin’s unreliable play. Three minutes into the half Lin returned and added 10 of his 12 points — to no avail.

The fault for Lin’s spotty performance may lie in the way he’s deployed. Lin has shown flashes of Linsanity-caliber brilliance when Harden isn’t playing, most memorably with a 38-point performance in a hard-fought loss to the San Antonio Spurs in early December when Harden was out for the game. Lin’s resurgence during stretches of the Beard’s absence suggests his real problem is lack of inspiration in his current role as a mere facilitator in a Harden-centric offense.

A Harden-less Rockets got off to a solid start, winning 5 of the 6 pre-season games led by Lin. Even after Harden signed on at the end of October, the Rockets won the first two regular season games under Lin’s generalship before the team’s offense was realigned to Harden’s advantage.

Lin effectively facilitated Harden’s explosive debut performances while keeping up his own high level of play. In Harden’s first Rockets game Lin provided 8 assists and 4 steals while contributing 12 points. In the second game with Harden Lin contributed 21 points and 10 rebounds. Both performances are far better than his averages after the team settled into its new configuration, with Lin asked to shift to the sideline after bringing the ball down court.

Lin’s history at Palo Alto High, Harvard, the Warriors’ D-League team and the Knicks show that he rises to the occasion when asked to lead but falters in limited roles. Unless McHale decides to use Lin for his original purpose — as the team’s main sparkplug — he will stay disengaged and the Rockets will keep sputtering.