IS THIS THING ON?

Harden played so poorly, a Rockets broadcaster accidentally spoke the truth

Harden played so poorly, a Rockets broadcaster accidentally spoke the truth
We've seen this before. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Lesson No. 1 – on the first day of freshman Broadcasting 101 – if there's a microphone within a thousand yards of you, assume it's "hot" and don't say anything stupid.

Wednesday night, during the Houston Rockets post-game show on AT&T SportsNet, veteran (and we do mean veteran, as in 35-plus years on the air), Calvin Murphy offered a backhanded compliment to brooding Rockets star James Harden. Murphy commented that while Harden had a poor shooting night, he "did the right things getting everybody else involved." True, Harden dished out 12 assists despite scoring only 15 points on 5-14 shooting, including a disinterested 4 points in the closing quarter.

Then, as the post-game show went to a commercial, and thinking his microphone was off, Murphy muttered, "He (Harden) quit," with clear disgust in his voice.

The Rockets lost 114-107 to the Indiana Pacers, with Harden on the floor in crunch time.

In defense (a word rarely associated with The Beard), Harden dearly wants to be traded out of Houston. A good way to convince your employer to say goodbye is to go home early on work nights, which is what Harden did Wednesday.

It wasn't the first time a Rockets broadcaster dissed Harden this season. Earlier, after Rockets new star Christian Wood drove coast-to-coast for a spectacular lefty layup, Bill Worrell shouted, "Who needs James Harden?"

Worrell later covered his poop by saying he meant that Wood didn't need to outlet the ball to Harden on that play.

Blurting out something dumb is a time-honored tradition in broadcasting, dating back to the early days of radio. Murphy should be comforted by the fact that hot-mic blunders typically aren't career killers.

Last year, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were caught mocking military flyovers during nearly empty stadiums during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aikman said, "That's a lot of jet fuel to do a little flyover." Buck responded, "That's your hard-earned money and your tax dollars at work." To which Aikman punctuated, "That stuff ain't happening with (a) Kamala-Biden ticket. I'll tell you that right now."

Neither was punished, both still at work. Regrettable comments certainly aren't limited to sports. Idiocy has always felt more at home in politics. Two examples:

In 2010, a hot mic caught Joe Biden whispering in President Obama's ear, "this is a big f------ deal during the Affordable Care Act signing ceremony.

A few years ago, Donald Trump was caught bragging he could "grab 'em by the p----."

Both were elected President of the United States. I don't think Murphy will lose his job over Harden "quit," especially since he did.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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