Jeremy Lin returns as Nets battle James Harden and the Houston Rockets

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Opponent: Houston Rockets
Time: 8:00 PM EST
Location: Toyota Center
Watch: YES Network
Listen: WCBS 880 AM

He’s back!

It’s not quite Michael Jordan wearing number 45 on his back but the Brooklyn Nets key free agent signing has returned. Point guard Jeremy Lin will play tonight against the 17-7 Houston Rockets, which should be a source of major optimism for the sunken Nets.

The Nets haven’t had Lin since their win against the Detroit Pistons on November 2nd and plummeted a record of 4-13 without the veteran ball handler. Besides Lin’s obvious boosts on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, it will also relieve some stress from rookie Isaiah Whitehead’s back — the de facto starter after Lin and Greivis Vasquez went down within days of each other.

This news comes days after the Nets announced rookie Caris LeVert would be activated for the first time this season. LeVert scored his first NBA basket in Saturday’s 130-101 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

If Justin Hamilton had returned from his one-game absence due to migraines, it would’ve been the first time all season that the Nets have a full, healthy squad — alas, we’ll continue to wait. However, the Nets will need as many healthy bodies as possible against the Rockets as they are currently on a six-game win streak, tying the longest win streak in the league this season.

The Rockets pounced on the Dallas Mavericks, 109-87, Saturday to keep a stranglehold on the fourth-best record in the NBA, led, of course, by MVP candidate James Harden.

If you thought Steve Nash was the best suitor for Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offensive style then think again. Harden is putting up insane numbers in D’Antoni’s offense with a line of 27.8 points, 11.6 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game. Furthermore, Harden is second in the league in double-doubles with 17, just trailing Russell Westbrook.

Harden may be one of the best at playing in space and finding shooters, as the Rockets’ signings of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have been perfect fits. Gordon has resurrected his career as a sixth-man role, finding his niche to the tune of 17 points a game. Anderson, the former Net and one of Brook Lopez’s close friends, is averaging 12.5 a game while shooting nearly 40% from deep.

The Rockets rank 1st in the league per game in three-pointers made with 14, 2nd in points at 111.6, 3rd in assists with 18.2. and rank 4th in offensive efficiency at 110.9.

After last week’s debacle, it’s worth noting that the Rockets have yet to activate Donatas Motiejunas after matching the Nets’ offer sheet last Monday.

3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Rockets:

1. How many minutes will Jeremy Lin play?

Jeremy Lin is listed as probable and has confirmed that he’ll play tonight — but the question is how much? The Nets want to be careful with their point guard after missing more than five weeks due to a strained hamstring. Lin himself said he wants to play 40 minutes, but he’ll obviously be cautious over the next couple games. Either way, it’s a major upgrade for a team that’s rolled with two rookies for the last month.

2. Who will (try to) contain James Harden?

James Harden made the move to the point guard position in the offseason and is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams every game. The Dallas Mavericks’ head coach Rick Carlisle recently referred to Harden as the “quintessential big point guard.” It’ll be a tough task for Lin to guard Harden in his first game back and even harder for rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead. Expect to see bigger bodies such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or, maybe, Caris LeVert on him.

3. Will the third quarter woes continue?

In the last two Brooklyn losses, the Nets were outscored 36-18 by the San Antonio Spurs and then 32-15 by the Washington Wizards. Thanks to be outscored by 7.5 in the third quarter, the Nets own the worst differential for a quarter in the entire NBA — yikes!