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Bloody Rockets Opener

Bloodied Jeremy Lin saves Rockets from coaching blunder, shows class and true skills

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Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
Kevin McHale had no choice but to give Jeremy Lin big minutes in the Houston Rockets' opener. Houston Rockets/Facebook
Dwight Howard Rockets
Dwight Howard lived up to the hype with 26 rebounds in his Houston Rockets' debut. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin pass
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
Dwight Howard Rockets
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In the end it doesn't matter because Jeremy Lin rises above another unnecessary obstacle thrown in his path. He takes the unwarranted hit from Kevin McHale — a benching that makes little real basketball sense — and then he takes a shot to the chin that leaves him needing stitches.

Bloodied but unbowed.

That's pretty much the story of Jeremy Lin's NBA career. Is it any surprise it's the story of opening night? Lin just keeps coming, no matter who tries to knock him down. The self-promoted "new age" Houston Rockets are lucky to have him — a point driven home in an uneven 96-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats in Game No. 1 of Dwight Howard's H-Town reign.

On a night when Howard and Omer Asik gobble up every rebound in sight, Jeremy Lin is the best perimeter player on the floor.

 In truth, McHale's ill-advised decision to make the offensively-limited Patrick Beverley the starting point implodes early. 

He doesn't pour in a bunch of points after the game's essentially over to pad his stats. He doesn't fire up a no-need 3-pointer in the closing seconds that has the Bobcats exchanging a few curious looks. He doesn't get a courtside high five from former Rocket Tracy McGrady, who's sitting in the front row next to team owner Leslie Alexander.

No, Jeremy Lin is not James Harden. The Rockets' rigidly reinforced pecking order will never let him forget that.

What Lin does do is score 16 points on only seven shots, fearlessly drive into the heart of the Bobcats' toughened up defense again and again like an NBA version of Walter Payton hurtling himself into a wall of bodies and set up Howard for one monster slam. It's a stunningly efficient line if you think about it (of course, NBA stat heads don't like to think about — or acknowledge — Jeremy Lin's efficient stat lines).

In truth, McHale's ill-advised decision to make the offensively-limited Patrick Beverley the starting point guard implodes even before Beverley has to leave the game with a minor rib injury. With Beverley at the point, the Rockets struggle to score nine points in the first five minutes and 59 seconds, shoot 3 for 13 from the field.

Afterwards, the players talk about how "sticky" the ball seems — using McHale's favorite expression for a bogged down offensive flow. McHale himself cracks that "Watching us play offense was like a trip to the dentist."

Of course, none of this could be due to the fact that McHale chooses to open the game with his best ball mover on the bench. No one brings that up. Let's not be absurd! Jeremy Lin couldn't have been contributing to that nice offensive flow last season.

Never mind that the offense almost immediately starts looking a little more smooth once Lin and Francisco Garcia get into the game. That must be pure coincidence.

Yes, it's going to be awful amusing seeing just how gymnastic the positions McHale and his Lin-discounting Houston media warriors must twist themselves into in order to defend turning the team's best point guard into a reserve get this season.

Dwight Howard Needs Help

One game in and we have Exhibit A on why Jeremy Lin needs to be starting. With Beverley sidelined, McHale has no choice but to play Lin 30 minutes. And Lin promptly proves he's the type of smooth offensive player and pure shooter that Beverley never will be.

 He doesn't fire up a no-need 3-pointer in the closing seconds that has Bobcats exchanging curious looks. He doesn't get a courtside high five from Tracy McGrady. 

Earlier in the day at the shootaround, Lin notes how he cannot control whether he starts or not. He says he'll only worry about what he can control. Which is what most seasoned pro athletes say when they're not pleased with a coaching decision. At least, the classy, media aware ones.

No, Jeremy Lin is not going to throw a fit and note how he's earned a starting job. But the fact that this is being twisted into Lin somehow being onboard with McHale's plan is comical. He's not embracing it. He's dealing with it. Just like he dealt with going undrafted. Just like he dealt with getting cut on Christmas eve. And yes, he'll do it with class.

Jeremy Lin doesn't whine. He works. So he takes another snub and turns it into a deadeye opening night. One in which he nearly literally takes advantage of every single opportunity he gets.

Bloodied but unbowed.

It's the Jeremy Lin way. While Howard and Asik's work on the glass (outrebounding the whole Charlotte team as a duo in the first half, finishing with 40 combined boards) is the new revelation, this healthier, more confident Lin will mean just as much in the long trophy chase. If only the Rockets let it.

"I was mad about that," Howard says when asked about matching his career high for rebounds (26) in his on-court postgame CSN interview. "I wanted to get all the rebounds, protect the paint as much as I can and let these young guys run."

A 25-year-old Jeremy Lin is a big key to getting that running game going. Early. Before the offense bogs down, the ball gets sticky and the Rockets find themselves mud wrestling with inferior teams like the Bobcats.

Let's not make too much sense though. Let's not get crazy. You can't stop throwing ridiculous obstacles in Jeremy Lin's way. On this night, he makes the Rocket doctors wait to stitch him up till after he's done playing, rushing back into the game with a stopgap blood squelcher. Jeremy Lin knows he must grab every possible moment.

Bloodied but unbowed. It's the real story of opening night — and it's not stopping anytime soon.

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