FUEL TO THE FIRE

Let's examine the X-factors for the Houston Rockets

Photo via: Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets need more than just James Harden and Russell Westbrook to win a championship. It takes a complete team to win so having important X-factors plays a huge part. After watching two of the Rockets' scrimmages, Ben McLemore, Jeff Green, and Danuel House looked impressive.

On Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, McLemore erupted in the fourth quarter with 11 points. McLemore was able to go 6/7 from behind the arc with 26 points. He has been able to shoot almost 40% from three and is averaging 9.8 points per game. McLemore has been useful for the Rockets this season because of his streaky shooting. Westbrook and Harden have been huge supporters of McLemore this season.

"Being able to play alongside those guys is a blessing," McLemore said last Tuesday. "They took me underneath [their] wing as a little brother."

Jeff Green is also important to the Rockets because of is length, shooting, and ability to spread the floor. Green is also a good defender meaning he can guard any position on the court at 6′8″. He was signed to the Rockets February 18, 2020, on a 10-day contract. After Green's performance against the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, and Grizzlies, Daryl Morey decided to sign him for the rest of the season. Green is averaging 10.4 points per game, shooting 41.2% from three, and his FG percentage is 62.1%. He became useful to Harden because of the pick and roll. That is why Green's FG percentage is high.

Sunday against the Grizzlies, Green scored 15 points.

"I knew Green was more than capable of helping us," said Harden on Sunday. "That was one of the reasons we reached out. He's able to handle the basketball, he's able to knock down shots, he's pretty solid on defense, so he fits into what we're doing."

Another impressive X-factor on the court is Danuel House. House is the streakiest shooter on the court. He is averaging 10.2 points per game but is shooting 36.3% from three. House is having an inconsistent year, shooting wise. Last season, House was shooting 41.6% from three. Probably the reason why Eric Gordon was inserted in the starting lineup for the bubble restart.

Even though House is coming off the bench now, he still brings a lot of support. Against the Toronto Raptors Friday night, House had 18 points off the bench. He shot 3 of 6 from three and 7 of 11 from the field. House was able to find more open looks with the second unit on the court. Which makes it much easier for him to gain his confidence. House is looking to finish the season strong inside the bubble.

Austin Rivers will return after his 10-day quarantine is up. He is also important to the Rockets because of his NBA tenure and playoff experience. After backing up Chris Paul on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Rockets, Rivers has experience coming of the bench. Rivers can lead the second unit with Harden or Westbrook on the court. Even though Rivers averages 8.5 points per game, he is still impactful by making big shots.

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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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