The Rockets Report

Another week, another 4 wins as Rockets up win streak to 13

Chris Paul and James Harden are wrecking shop on the NBA right now. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Sometimes it’s great to be wrong. An example of that is when you end your last article trying to be as objective as possible, predict the Rockets’ winning streak will end, and they mow through a four-game work week undefeated. Those are the moments when I’m happy to admit I was mistaken.

Led by the consensus leading MVP candidate James Harden, the Rockets have now ripped off 13 straight wins while maintaining the best record in the league. If they’re able to survive Monday’s test against the Jazz, expect the streak to continue through Christmas.

Game 25: Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans (W, 130-123)

With Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis out with an injury, it looked as though the Rockets would cruise to their 10th straight victory. That was nowhere near the case, as DeMarcus Cousins and company fired out of the gate and matched the Rockets point for point. Cousins set the tone early with a stop and pop 3-pointer early in the first.

“None of this makes any sense,” My friend explained.

I agreed.

E’Twaun Moore scored 36, Jrue Holiday added 37, and Rajon Rondo added a vintage triple-double in what seemed to be a streak-ending Pelicans victory. Harden would have none of that, scoring 12 straight late in the fourth quarter to take the lead and seal the victory. Clint Capela scored a career high 28 points on 13 of 14 shooting. Harden would finish one assist shy of his career high with 17, to go along with 26 points and 6 steals. Eric Gordon was 5-6 from three point range, adding 27 points off the bench.

Game 26: Rockets vs Charlotte Hornets (W, 108-96)

Dwight Howard returned to the Toyota Center for the first time this season and hung 26 points and 18 rebounds on the Rockets, but a 25-0 run by Houston in the first half proved to be too much for the Hornets to recover from. In a scary moment early on, Luc Richard Mbah Moute crashed hard to the ground and left in the first half with a dislocated shoulder. Chris Paul led the Rockets with 31 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds. Clint Capela added 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. Harden finished with 21 points.

Game 27: Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs (W, 124-109)

The then 19-10 Spurs headed to Houston to take on the Rockets for the first time this season since embarrassing Harden and company in the second round of last season’s playoffs. As part of an ESPN nationally televised double-header highlighted by the return from injury of Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, the matchup looked to be one of the toughest tests the Rockets had faced all season. This, however, was not the case at all.

The Spurs hung on throughout most of the first quarter with their trademark tenacity on defense, but it was Paul who would bust the game open in the second and never look back. The Rockets lead by 17 at the half on the way to a blowout victory that was never in jeopardy from then on. Paul would finish 5-9 from 3-point range with 28 points, 8 assists and 7 steals. Harden had 28 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds.

Game 28: Rockets vs Milwaukee Bucks (W, 115-111)

After playing four games in five days the Rockets tipped off against the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks as the second part of back-to-back games. The Rockets looked noticeably gassed, and with Capela sitting due to a heel bruise, Antetokounmpo was free to do his damage in the paint with little resistance.

Yet, even as tired and injury-riddled as they were, the Rockets would prove once again to be a hard out. The Rockets would play small for most of the game, with Ryan Anderson playing center and P.J. Tucker starting at power forward. In spite of 16 lead changes, the Rockets would finally pull away just enough early in the fourth to secure a grinder of a game. Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 28 points, 5 assists, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. Harden paced the Rockets with 31 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. Paul added 25 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Six of the eight Rockets that checked into the game scored in double figures. Anderson was shut out for the first time this season.

Takeaways:

  • Saturday's win against the Bucks stretched their winning streak to 13 games, which is tied for third best in Rockets history. Their longest streak was in 2007-2008 when they went on an improbable 22-game winning streak, which is the fourth best in NBA history.

  • According to Basketball-Reference.com’s MVP tracker, James Harden is currently number one with a 66.2% probability of winning. The Rockets are 3-0 versus the next 4 candidate’s teams (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kevin Durant). Clint Capela currently ranks 7th on the list.

  • Speaking of streaks and Harden, The beard is currently has a streak of his own going. In the past 29 games dating back to last season, Harden has failed to score less than 20 points in a game. That streak is tied with Moses Malone for the best in Rockets history.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets are looking at a very soft part of their schedule with home games against the Jazz and Lakers, followed by a friday away game against the Clippers. These are all sub .500 teams, sporting a combined record of 35-50. The Utah Jazz had been showing signs of life until Rudy Gobert went down yet again, this time with a PCL injury. The last time the Jazz played in the Toyota Center, Harden scored or assisted on 91 total points, which is the third highest such output in NBA history. In the first matchup against the Lakers, the Rockets held Lonzo Ball to 2 points, 1 assist, and 2 rebounds, winning by 23. The Clippers are 11-17, going 3-6 in their last 9 contests. Friday will be their first matchup this season with the Rockets.

Until the Gobert injury, I assumed that the toughest test would be this Monday against the Jazz. As I stated above, it looks very likely that they’ll carry their winning streak into their Christmas day matchup against the Thunder.

 

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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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