NBA PLAYOFFS

Fred Faour: 5 quick observations from the Rockets' series clinching win over Minnesota

Clint Capela had a big series for the Rockets. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets advanced to the second round with an 122-104 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Rockets won the series 4-1 and will face either Utah or Oklahoma City in the next round. Here are five quick observations from Wednesday night’s win:

  1. Halftime adjustments. For the second straight game, the Rockets flipped the game in the third quarter. They did not score 50, as they did in Game 4, but they erased a four-point deficit and entered the fourth quarter up 11. James Harden, awful in the first half, scored 15 and finished with 24 for the game.  The Wolves scored just 15 in the quarter, so it was adjustments on both sides of the ball. Give some credit to Mike D’Antoni.

  2. Timmmbbbeerrrr! (Sorry, could not resist). The Wolves played as well as they could have hoped for in the first half. Harden and Chris Paul were terrible. Karl Anthony Towns was a dominant force for the Wolves. Jimmy Butler came to play. And the Wolves only led by 4. This is a good team, but they simply had to have everything go right to win a game. It did in the first half, and they could not separate themselves. It came back to haunt them. If the Wolves are to take the next step, they need Andrew Wiggins to become more engaged and more consistent. He scored just 14 points in the elimination game and often looked out of sorts. Five of those came in garbage time.

  3. Depth, numbers. While Harden and Paul struggled early, the Rockets got solid efforts from Trevor Ariza (16 points), P.J. Tucker (15), Clint Capela (26, 15 rebounds) and Eric Gordon (19). Capela continues to be a terrific finisher at the rim. The Rockets lesser lights held down the fort until Harden found the range, and when he did, it was over.

  4. Raising their game. Yes, the Rockets won the series relatively easily, but they will need to play better moving forward. OKC or Utah might not be much tougher than the Wolves, but the Warriors are the real target, and the Rockets will need to be better. Positives: they controlled the boards, 40-38, even with Minnesota playing both Towns and Taj Gibson at the same time. Also, the Rockets only had four turnovers. Those factors and more consistency on offense will give them a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

  5. Versatility. The Rockets won their four games in different ways. Game 1 was all Harden. Game 2 he could not buy a shot, but the Rockets got it done. In Games 4 and 5, they did it with third-quarter outbursts and lockdown defense. They can score in transition. They can hit 3s. They can score in the half court on the pick and roll or in isolation. They were far from perfect in this series, and yet it was never in doubt. The Wolves might have been the third-best team in the West when Butler was healthy, and they were never a threat. It bodes well moving forward.

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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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