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Joel Blank: Rockets will live or die based on whether or not "Elimination James" shows up

James Harden needs to bring his "A" game. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's time for the second coming of Big Game James as the Rockets try to avoid elimination.

One game, winner-take-all for the Western Conference and loser goes home. For all the obsessing, talking, hard work that got you home court advantage and the upper hand that came with it, no one mentioned the devastating hand the Rockets would be dealt. Now it could be the final hand if James Harden and the rest of the team don't find a way to win Game 7. 

We've heard the term "elimination James" and are far too familiar with the narrative and the history that backs that moniker up. James Harden had nine turnovers in Game 6 and gave his critics plenty of ammunition to continue the criticism and add to that negativity. This is a guy who disappeared a year ago in an elimination game against a short-handed Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The same guy that set an NBA record for turnovers by an individual player in a playoff game the last time the Rockets were in the WCF. Even this year, his biggest games came in Game 1's of the first two series and without Chris Paul's late series and late game heroics, this Rockets team may already be fishing. Now there is no CP3 to save the day and guide the troops to victory which makes the spotlight on the Beard brighter and the expectations of Red Nation even higher.

Even if Paul can somehow pull a Clyde Drexler a la Game 5 in Phoenix in 1995, he will probably be as ineffective as the Glyde was and only there as motivation for the rest of his squad. Sure, the role players have to step up and do their part as they have done in every playoff victory, but with Coach D'Antoni basically going with a 7 man rotation, they can only do so much. At the end of the day, this is why James Harden is paid the big bucks and for all the glory and accolades, there are times like this when your shoulders have to be wide enough to carry the team and the entire city of Houston to victory. James Harden is the MVP.  

The Beard has put together a four-year run that has included three years where he could have won that award and two that he should have. He is a great player and has a huge window of future success ahead of him, but there is also a rear view mirror full of playoff failures. Stars are born and reputations built in the regular season, which coincidentally is also when the MVP is voted on.

The playoffs are a different animal, where legends are constructed and history is written. Robert Horry was never an all-star but is the subject of legitimate Hall of Fame discussions because of his postseason success and his ability to transform into "Big Shot Bob" when his team needed him the most. So, for all of the broken dreams and busted bubbles of the past, all can be right if he can just lead his team to victory in the biggest game of their season and with it, punch their ticket to the big dance and a date with a guy who has shown the world how it's done and how big games are won.

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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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