James Harden was the last Rocket on the floor Tuesday, pouring in one 3-pointer after another. He's played like the star the Rockets were hoping he would be when they nabbed him from Oklahoma City in a stunning trade in late October.
Harden ranks fifth in scoring (25.9 points per game) and has been Houston's high scorer in 22 of 23 games. But with overall scoring down and turnovers up, the most obvious player to scrutinize is point guard Jeremy Lin, who was benched and replaced by newcomer Patrick Beverley in the fourth quarter on Monday.
Lin didn't speak to the media on Tuesday. He's had a hot-and-cold first season with the Rockets after he skyrocketed to worldwide fame in New York about this time last year. He's had his moments — 38 points in a loss to San Antonio, 22 points and nine assists in a win over the Knicks in his return to Madison Square Garden — but he's also struggled in stretches, especially with his outside shot.
McHale is quick to point out that Lin is still only 24 and has only 68 starts in his NBA career.
"Jeremy's OK," McHale said. "Jeremy is a young guy who's been up and down before. When you're a young fella, you have some ups and downs and that will be the case with a lot of guys. No big deal, he's going to be fine."
The Rockets have 12 games remaining before the NBA's All-Star Weekend comes to town. They seemed upbeat after Tuesday's practice, but Harden acknowledged that the young team's confidence was damaged by the recent slide.
Different from his days in Oklahoma City, Harden feels like everyone is looking to him for leadership.
"We've got to bring each other in," Harden said. "We went through a tough stretch, so everybody kind of put their heads down a little bit. Being that this is a new role for me, I've got to do a better job of leading these guys and telling them that this is a game, everybody goes through these stretches. We've got to figure a way to get out of it."