THE GODFATHER SPEAKS

John Granato: James Harden purgatory update

What do we think of James Harden now? Tim Warner/Getty Images

I’m really torn on what I think about James Harden after these playoffs. I thought this postseason would sway me one way or the other. I’d been saying for years that we will always be in James Harden purgatory - somewhere up there but never in heaven. About midseason I admitted that I was wrong, that James could take us to the promised land. Now I’m not so sure. I’m in limbo which is what purgatory is I guess. So I’m right back where I started. I think.

I’m so confused.

But that’s what James does. He confuses and confounds you then promptly amazes and astounds you. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pick up my phone and tweet about one of his errant passes or lazy defensive efforts or when he just let an inbounds pass bounce right to a Warrior who picked it up and scored easily.

But I stopped myself. And sure enough right after one of his boneheaded plays he’d steal a pass or hit Capella with a sweet alley oop or knock down a big 3 and a tweet that would have made perfect sense would have looked stupid just a couple minutes later.

So where are we on James Harden’s legacy?

I have no idea.

If only Chris Paul hadn’t gotten hurt. With CP3 we know they had enough fire power to win it all. Whether or not they would have is the great unknown. I think they would have. You may not think so. Okay. You’re not wrong either. No one knows for sure.

I do know that he was the yin to James’ yang. He was hot when James was cold. In those crunch times we’ve seen James fold in, CP3 took the reins and guided them to victory - Game 5 against the Jazz when he poured in 41 or Game 4 in Oakland when he brought them back from 12 down in the 4th to even the series at two games apiece.

And that was fine by me. If Chris Paul was the alpha dog and led them to the title, all we’d remember is that they won. James could bathe in the glory of a championship and the monkey would be off his back. They couldn’t have won it without him regardless of his postseason play. It would be idiotic to criticize him any longer because he won. Period.

But that’s not the case. Now all we have is another playoff failure and James has to take his share of the blame for it. In Game 7 he scored 32 but on 29 shots. He was just 2 of 13 from 3 point range and worse yet he didn’t have any answers or leadership in another second half swan dive.

Elimination James is alive and well. It’s not nearly as egregious as last year’s Game 6 against the Spurs or as haphazard as his 11 turnover game in ‘15 but it was still an elimination failure. So the question still remains. Can the Rockets win a title with James Harden? Other questions have to be answered first.

Is an oft-injured Chris Paul a max deal guy and if so for how long?

Do you match whatever for Capella?

Do you upgrade the Trevor Ariza position?

Will anyone take Ryan Anderson’s contract? Please.

Is Gerald Green worth bringing back?

Are you really in the LeBron sweepstakes?

They’re all legitimate issues Daryl Morey has to face this offseason. I think he did a helluva job putting this team together and getting them to the precipice of greatness. All the pieces fit perfectly. If that one spoke didn’t break they could have won the race.

The reality is that that spoke breaks quite often and you have to prepare accordingly. You never want to predict that someone will get injured but history shows that it’s more likely than not for CP3. We also know that James can’t win it alone so there’s got to be more.

If it isn’t LeBron it’s going to have to be someone else.

Paul George? Not likely.

Boogie Cousins? No thanks.

Carmelo Anthony? I’d rather have Boogie.

Most of the other decent possible additions are restricted free agents and they cost too much. So does JJ Reddick.

Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Dirk are too old. Rajon Rondo is a nut job. Marco Belinelli might be a piece that would fit but he’s just a piece.

Good luck Daryl. Should be fun. But he pulled it off last offseason so you never know.

I do know this. I feel better about James right now than I did last year at this time. That’s not a high hurdle though. At this time last year we were all reeling from the Game 6 nightmare.

At least in Game 7 against the Warriors he tried. He spun his wheels but he did try.

He deferred to CP3 against the Jazz and Warriors but I’m OK with that. He did what was best for the team.

All his postseason numbers were worse than his regular season numbers. Took more shots and made fewer. Took more 3’s and made fewer. Scored less per game overall.

So you would think that nothing’s changed and if that’s your attitude then so be it. But I saw something different this year. I’m kind of with Mike D’Antoni on this one. Let’s not discount the 65 wins. Let’s not forget the WCF appearance. Let’s appreciate what will be an MVP season from James.

It all just looked and felt different and if that’s because James had CP3 there leading him towards the water that’s fine. He drank it. And the team was better for it.

I don’t care if James isn’t the alpha in the room. That’s not his thing. Scoring is and he does that better than everyone in the league and because of it they were one half away from the championship round.

We may still be in James Harden purgatory but I know this: the pearly gates ain’t far away.  



 

 






 

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Houston drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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