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Great result for Rockets, but Harden-Paul pairing will be a work in progress

Off the court, James Harden and Chris Paul have been great. They still have work to do on it. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last night the Houston Rockets upset the Golden State Warriors 122-121 in a thrilling shootout to kick off the regular season. Free agent signings Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker provided a great spark off the bench with 14 and 20 points respectively, to compliment reigning sixth man of the year Eric Gordon and his 24-point effort. It was a great win, and more importantly it was at least the beginning of the answer to the biggest question surrounding the Rockets all offseason:

How will Chris Paul and James Harden look on the floor together?

Well, the short answer is – at the moment – not great. Not terrible, but not great. Paul and Harden seemed to stick to what they know best, which is a lot of iso ball. If one had the ball, the other seemed to sit off in the corner and let them do their thing. Paul went 2-9 from the field (0-4 from 3-point range) for 4 points to go with 11 assists and 8 rebounds, but left the game near the end of the fourth quarter with knee soreness. Harden, meanwhile, dazzled in his debut, turning in a 27 point, 6 rebound, and 10 assist effort.

They ended the game with a combined 21 assists, but the growing pains were fairly evident. Paul found himself in rather unfamiliar territory by playing off ball the majority of the time the two shared the court.

At the moment it’s very obvious that Paul realizes that this is Harden’s team and seemed fine acquiescing the ball handling duties for the time being while he adjusts. Paul was eventually pulled out of the lineup in favor of Gordon near the end of the fourth quarter because of the knee, and when questioned by reporters in the locker room about the benching showed zero frustration. That was a good sign, because it shows that he realizes how talented the Rockets’ lineup is.

At the moment it’s simply too early to grade the Harden/Paul experiment, especially with Paul playing hurt. Injuries are going to be part of the norm with Paul, as they have been throughout his career, but when he’s healthy, he’s still one of the most dangerous point guards in the league.

I personally don’t expect there to be much of an issue. Harden and Paul are far too talented and basketball smart to not make this work.

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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