Joel Blank: Rockets need to find a sense of urgency fast

Chris Paul has played well since a disaster of a Game 1, but the Rockets need more. Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's time to wake up and smell the urgency Rockets fans.

Houston, it's time to face the reality that your team hasn't been playing good basketball. The Rockets have been on cruise control for the entire month of April and have yet to realize this is crunch time in the NBA. Ever since this team wrapped up the best record in the NBA, they have been lacking offensive efficiency, defensive tenacity and complete team chemistry. For a team that has been clicking on all cylinders for most of the regular season and only had lows from injuries to key players, this has become a huge issue. Something that was initially being brushed aside as a sidebar to resting players late in the year has now come full circle. It started with resting players that were healthy, and has continued to the point where it's not rust anymore, it's more of a relaxed attitude and lack of a sense of urgency that is a must when you get to the postseason.

Let's not forget that Game 1 of their opening round playoff series against Minnesota was tight for most of the game and Houston was lucky to come out with a victory. Sure they got a blowout win in game 2, but Game 3 was more of the same, sloppy, inconsistent play for Houston. They very easily could be down 2 games to 1,  instead of being up a game heading into Game 4.

When you look around the playoff landscape and you see the teams that are having success right now, it's obvious that chemistry and teamwork are of the utmost importance.  The Indiana Pacers play team basketball on both ends of the floor. Aside from Victor Oladipo, most casual basketball fans would be hard pressed to name another Pacers player. The New Orleans Pelicans are getting maximum effort and production from their star player Anthony Davis, but Jrue Holiday and the rest of the team have stepped up in a big way as they upset Portland in the opening round.  Teams like Utah, Philly, and Golden State are playing defense at a very high level and that leads to continuity and fast breaks on the offensive end. Houston needs to find that balance between success for their superstars and contributions from their role players, as well as getting back to the team defense that propelled them to the top of the NBA this season.

In Game 1, Chris Paul struggled and in Game 2 James Harden’s jumper was missing in action. In Game 3, Harden and Paul did their thing but didn’t get nearly enough help to compete with the energy and emotions of Minnesota. Aside from one big half from Clint Capela and one game from Gerald Green, the role players for the Rockets have been inconsistent and in some cases inexcusable.  Eric Gordon has taken last year's 6th man of the year award and turned it into being consistently inconsistent all regular season. In the playoffs and on this team, he is arguably the third most important offensive player on this roster and in this opening round series he has been anything but that.

It's time to step up as a team, and shape up from and execution standpoint. There is so much talent on this team that they can get by in this opening round series with inconsistent play, but as they get deeper into the playoffs they are setting themselves up for a big fall if they don't improve in all aspects of the game. They are lucky to have a one game lead in this opening round series and have plenty of time to right the ship, but in short the time is now and they need to find a sense of urgency before it's too late.

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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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