Rockets lose 121-111, Harden ties Wilt

3-pointers from Rockets loss to Timberwolves

In their final game before the all-star break the Houston Rockets traveled to Minnesota to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. It was a back and forth battle between a T-Wolves team strong in the interior and a Rockets team more comfortable raining shots from distance. Minnesota would turn the tide late in the third with key defensive stops, defeating Houston 121-111 behind an impressive showing from rookie Josh Okogie. Houston is now 33-24, first in the Southwest Division, and fifth in the Western Conference.

Strength versus strength

The Timberwolves are big. The Rockets can shoot. Wednesday ultimately came down to who was the saltiest on defense because very little was done to challenge each other's strengths. Houston fired off 53 three pointers in a contest where they were bludgeoned in the paint 70-36. The difference is that the Rocket's shots weren't falling, shooting a collective 35.8% from behind the line. Poor shooting, coupled with timely defense from the opponent more often results in defeat.

Josh Okogie

The Timberwolves rookie drew one of the most difficult assignments in the NBA when he lined up across from James Harden Wednesday night. Undeterred, Okogie went to work and came up clutch late in the third with five straight points to take the lead. Okogie immediately set up on the other end after burying a three, and as Harden lurched back for his trademark step back 3-pointer, Okogie lunged forward and stuffed the shot before the ball left Hardens hands. Shot clock violation. Turnover. While Harden still finished the night with another eye-popping scoring performance, it was obvious that play was the turning point from which the Timberwolves built their momentum to finish the game with a victory.

Streak watch

These days the first question Rockets fans have is whether or not the team won. Immediately following is whether or not Harden scored 30 points to continue his unreal streak. Harden started the night off slow, scoring only five points in the first quarter. He shook off the slow start to the tune of 15 in the second, 11 in the third, and 11 in the fourth. Harden finished with 42 points on the night, extending his streak of consecutive 30+ point performances to 31. The streak ties Wilt Chamberlain for second most in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain's other unworldly record of 65.

Rockets player of the game:

James Harden: 42 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds

Timberwolves player of the game:

Jeff Teague: 27 points, 12 assists, 3 rebounds

Next up


Nothing for a week. Following the All Star break, Houston travels to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers next Thursday at 9:30 pm.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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