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Jeremy Lin must stop wimpily deferring to James Harden: Like in New York, he needs to grab games

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Jeremy Lin Blazers
Jeremy Lin had the biggest drive of the game in the Houston Rockets' home opener. But when the game was on the line in the closing seconds, the ball was nowhere near his hands. Photo by Getty Images
James Harden beard
Jeremy Lin cannot completely defer to The Beard if the Rockets are to have any chance of making the playoffs in the deep Western Conference. Photo by Streetball.com
Jeremy Lin Blazers
James Harden beard
Kevin McHale
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

It is one of those plays that can make even the most devoted of NBA fans cringe. The star dribbles the ball at the top of the circle as the clock ticks inside 15 seconds, inside 10 seconds, inside five seconds . . . 

Everyone in the arena knows who is going to take the shot — which is going to be, at best, a contested jumper. On these Hero Plays, teamwork becomes what Ron Swanson hopes government will become: Nonexistent.  

Still, even the better teams in the NBA find themselves in this position in end-game scenarios. Marquee players yearn for their hero moment, for their highlight clip of one-on-one final buzzer supremacy. It doesn't matter how many you miss or don't even get up . . . hit one and you'll have yourself fodder for a TV commercial (see Kevin Durant's Doodle Jump spot for Sprint).

 Lin needs to respect his own talent and act like he's a star in the making. That's what he did during that unforgettable run in New York. 

The Houston Rockets new star — and NBA scoring champion to be — James Harden dutifully went into Hero Play mode in the team's home opener Saturday night. Never mind the fact that Harden spent most of the night looking more exhausted than a cross country trucker and a college kid in final exam week combined. Never mind that ball movement to players like Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson is what kept the Rockets in this game.

Houston 81, Portland 81 with 19 seconds remaining . . . time to pound the basketball into complete submission for 17 long seconds, giving the opposing defense enough warning to virtually build a fortress.

Harden is the one who does the pounding, the one who eventually (really, eventually) gets the ball knocked away by Trailblazers guard Wesley Matthews. But he's hardly at fault for this wasted final sequence or the wasted overall opportunity.

No, this 95-85 overtime loss to one of the teams that the Rockets must beat to have any chance of making the playoffs in the Western Conference is on Jeremy Lin.

For this is a game when Lin should have demanded the basketball, a game when he needed to shrug off his fatigued backcourt partner and take on the burden himself. Instead Lin meekly watches Harden hoist up shot after shot, 24 in all, including six 3-pointers — on a night when Harden's legs look about as sound as Silly Putty.

Where is the Jeremy Lin who turned New York on its ear and seized game after game for the Knicks in the clutch? Where is the Lin who loves the big moment? Where is the guy who had Rockets owner Leslie Alexander hanging up on general manager Daryl Morey in pissed-off, game-winner regret last winter?

For a brief flash, it looks like he is in the Toyota Center in a home opener heavy with buzz. For Lin makes a great, aggressive drive to put the Rockets up 81-78, flying into the lane to challenge the giants and flipping in a high-arching runner.

 Where is the Lin who turned New York on its ear and seized game after game in the clutch? Where is the Lin who loves the big moment? 

It's clear, Lin has much more left than Harden whose 82 points in the first two games of the season showed the Rockets that they can compete. Harden will be up to carrying Houston on many nights. But this home opener — with all the fake beards in the building for The Beard — isn't one of them.

This is one of those times when Lin must seize the day. Instead after that fearless drive, he all but disappears into the Toyota Center's new ginormous scoreboard.

Who told Jeremy Lin to start treating James Harden like he's Carmelo Anthony?

The Need For Speed

If Lin lets his own game be swallowed up by the star around him, the Rockets have no chance to do anything but frighten a few middling Eastern Conference teams.

For the Rockets to be effective, Lin must be pushing the pace. And not just on nights when he can almost quietly make a run at a triple double under the cover of a Harden 45-point night. This Rockets team isn't built to beat anyone if it's scoring 85 points in a game. Houston needs to be one of the highest-scoring teams in the league to have a chance.

And much of that depends on Lin taking charge.

He needs to respect his own talent and act like he's a star in the making. That's what he did during that unforgettable run in New York. That's why he has a $25 million contract.

Jeremy Lin cannot watch someone else dribble out the clock when he's having the better night. Some of this is on Rockets coach Kevin McHale. But Lin needs to be calling for the ball — in timeouts, in Harden's ear, in his own actions.

This wasn't James Harden's night. It happens. Everyone in the Toyota Center could see that. But it should have been Jeremy Lin's.

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