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Cleared For Takeoff

December 12, 2012 12:17 pm EST

Jeremy Lin and James Harden good to go as Rockets prepare to take on Wizards

HOUSTON - After three straight frustrating defeats, the Rockets could sorely use a get-well game. With that in mind, a tilt against the woeful Washington Wizards may prove to be just what the doctor ordered.

To be fair, a significant portion of the Wizards’ problems can be attributed to a vicious bout of injuries, especially at the point guard position where Washington has been forced to survive the season without the services of John Wall to date. Mix in maladies that have also forced Nene and Trevor Booker, among others, to the bench for prolonged periods of time and the end result is a team that, at 3-15, currently sports the worst record and worst offense in the NBA.

In the eyes of Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, however, his focus at present is centered far more on his own club rather than the opponent lining up on the other side of the floor. Houston’s defensive efficiency has slipped all the way to 24th in the league and the reasons behind that ranking are clear enough. Per Synergy Sports, the Rockets are 27th in points per possession allowed in transition and 21st in defending spot-ups. As a result, McHale and the rest of the Rockets coaches have been hammering home the importance of closing out on open shooters and putting in more effort and better communication when racing back on defense – a message that rings true regardless of whom Houston is playing night to night.

“To be truthful, the other night I didn’t care about San Antonio,” McHale said following this morning’s shootaround. “We play San Antonio four times; we play ourselves 82 times. We’ve got to get ourselves ready. I care so little about the other team. We’ve got to prepare our team to play every single night.”

To that end, the Rockets will receive a big boost as James Harden is ready to return to action after missing one game with a sprained ankle and Jeremy Lin appears good to go as well after tweaking his ankle in yesterday’s practice. Both players took part in today’s walkthrough with Lin saying afterward that he feels a little soreness but overall declared himself “just fine” for tonight’s game.

That certainly comes as good news to Rockets fans eager to see Lin back on the floor as soon as possible after Monday night’s breakout performance in which he tied a career high by scoring 38 points. After struggling with his shot for much of the season so far, the 24-year-old point guard is starting to reap the rewards of all the extra time he’s put in after practice this year in order to improve his shooting touch. Over the course of the last two games, Lin is 6-8 from downtown and he does not deny what a huge boost it’s been to his confidence to see his shots fall with more regularity.

“Sometimes for players all it takes is one and it kind of breaks everything up. I was fortunate to get a few the other night and a couple the game before so it’s definitely going to help me … For me it’s just a matter of believing in the shot and the work that we’ve put in during the summer. I’ve seen it go in all summer long.”

Perhaps more important, however, is Lin making sure that he maintains an attacking, aggressive mindset at all times. During the San Antonio game in particular, Lin was relentless after knocking down his first few shots from the field and that’s the sort of mentality the Rockets want to see him employ – regardless of whether or not his shot happens to be falling on any given night.

“It’s big for me,” he said, “just trying to keep the same mindset and understand I can’t always control whether all my shots go in or if I get in a zone, but I can control my mindset and my attitude and the mentality that I came out with.

“One of my coaches told me it’s selfish not to shoot the open shot. That’s a good way to put it.”