GIVE HARDEN A BREAK

Before making your mind up about James Harden, consider this

Rockets fans were not happy with Harden. Photo by Getty Images

There was something different about the Houston Rockets first practice of the 2020-21 NBA season. For the first time in nearly a decade, serial scoring champ James Harden wasn't there. And the first pre-season game is Friday, with the official season tipping off in less than two weeks.

If not in camp, then where was Harden? He spent last Thursday in Atlanta celebrating the birthday of his best friend and famed trap rapper, Lil Baby. After the party, he flew to Las Vegas for more weekend partying before returning home – at least for now – Houston.

Rockets fans were not happy with Harden skipping class, especially after a video surfaced on Twitter showing the Beard presenting Lil Baby a Prada duffle bag stuffed with $100,000 cash, a $300,000 Richard Mille watch and a bunch of honeybuns.

Because he was out-of-town last week, Harden must test negative three more times for COVID-19 before he is allowed to team practices. Not helping matters, in all the photographs published from Harden's weekend fiesta, there wasn't a single soul wearing a mask.

Since appearing in Atlanta and Las Vegas, Harden has quickly bolted up the list of Houston athletes that fans want out of the Bayou City. Harden reportedly has told Rockets management that while he'd prefer to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets, he'd accept a swap to the Philadelphia 76'ers. It was announced overnight that Harden added the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks to his list. While breaking up is hard to do, deep down can you really blame Harden for wanting to leave the Rockets? Former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who either resigned or was fired by team owner Tilman Fertitta, is now the boss man in Philadelphia. Harden and Morey were soulmates trying to capture an NBA title for Houston. Although the tandem failed to reach the promised land, it's obvious they wouldn't mind chasing the goal in Philadelphia.

Many longtime Rockets fans have turned on the reigning 3-time NBA scoring champ. But have they considered that maybe Harden would benefit from an occasional day off like, you know, LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard or equivalent superstars? Harden is hardly the first sports veteran to find any excuse to miss the opening few days of training camp.

Bear in mind, because of COVID-19, this was the briefest NBA off-season. Doesn't it feel like we watched the Los Angeles Lakers win the bubble title only a couple of months ago? Actually, the Lakers brushed aside the Heat on Oct. 11 – less than two months ago. Harden, the ultimate gym rat and workhorse, was third in the league in minutes played last season. OK, maybe partying in Atlanta and Vegas wasn't the best form of R&R, but Harden was entitled to some extra time off. Give Harden a break.

NBA off-seasons typically last more than four months. The upcoming season will not be played in a bubble, but the league is asking players to avoid bars and other risky places and situations. That's not exactly the lifestyle Harden is known for – not by a longshot.

"While in their team's home market, team personnel will be prohibited from going to bars, lounges or clubs, from attending live entertainment or sports events, from using gyms, spas or pools, or from participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people," stated the NBA outline for the 2020-2021.

And it doesn't get much better on the road.

"On the road, players, coaches and staff will be permitted to dine outside their hotels if the restaurants provide outdoor dining, have fully privatized indoor rooms, or have met requirements to be formally approved by the league and the players' union. The NBA and NBAPA will work to provide a list of at least three approved restaurants in each market."

Say what you want about Harden, but once he tests negative three more times, he will return to the unstoppable offensive force we have come to know and once loved. Harden is entering a new chapter in his career. There is a new GM, a new coach, new teammates, and a new style of play. Before fans trash him, they need to walk a mile in his basketball shoes - $94 on sale this week at adidas.com.

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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.



That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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