The Rockets Report

Losing streak ends with win over Lakers, but Harden to miss significant time

James Harden's injury will test the Rockets. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last week was a series of extremes for the Rockets, as they varied between crushing defeats and thrilling victories on the way to a 1-2 record on the week. In spite of the recent slump, the Rockets still maintain a two-game lead on the division and are second in the western conference overall.

Looking to address their depth issues in the wake of a rash of injuries, the Rockets added Houston-native guard/forward Gerald Green to the team last Thursday. The signing came at a critical time as superstar James Harden fell to injury on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

Game 33: Rockets at Boston Celtics (L, 98-99)

The Rockets had lost three in a row heading into their match up with one of the best teams in the league. With Chris Paul still sidelined with injury, the Rockets nevertheless jumped out to a surprisingly dominant lead following a 30-12 first quarter. The lead ballooned up to as much as 26 points before the Celtics began chipping away towards an incredible comeback. With Clint Capela also out with an injury, Boston pounded the inside and with three seconds remaining in the game, the Celtics took their first lead of the night. Two subsequent offensive fouls by James Harden would seal the Rockets defeat and stretch the losing streak to four in what was possibly Houston’s worst loss of the season.

Game 34: Rockets at Washington Wizards (L, 121-103)

Game two of the northeast back-to-back series provided the same result as the night before, despite the return of Paul to the lineup. The tired-looking Rockets squad shot an abysmal 29% from behind the line on 48 attempts, and the Wizards cruised to a victory. Harden finished with 20 points, followed by Gerald Green and Eric Gordon with 18 and 16 respectively.

Game 35: Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers (W, 148-142)

On New Year’s Eve the Rockets and Lakers finished 2017 with a spectacular performance that required two overtimes to determine a winner. The Rockets dug in late defensively to erase a 17-point deficit and draw even with the Lakers, before a last second offensive rebound and put back by P.J. Tucker--his only points of the night--snapped Houston’s five-game losing streak. Harden would exit the game late in the fourth with a hamstring injury, leaving Paul to guide Houston through both overtimes. Paul delivered, finishing with 28 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds in the last second victory. Harden exited the game with 40 points and 11 assists.

Takeaways

The Rockets are about to do something they haven’t had to do much of since Harden was traded to Houston: play without James Harden. Harden sustained a hamstring strain which will sideline him for at least two weeks—the longest stint he’s ever spent on the injured list. This sheds light on one of the most undervalued aspect of Harden’s overall game--his durability. In the past four seasons, he’s only missed one game to injury. The Rockets are still equipped to win without him, now that Paul and Capela have returned from injury, but it remains to be seen how a Harden-less Houston team can perform if his absence becomes more extended.

Gerald Green’s signing is an example of yet another successful midseason free agent signing that has proved—at least for now—to be paying off. Green is an extremely athletic back court addition and a career .362 three-point shooter. Not including the Boston game which was the day he was signed, Green has averaged 14 points per game in almost 25 minutes per game off the bench.

Looking Ahead:

This week the Rockets have three games with a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday they will take on the Magic at Orlando, before returning home for a midseason test against the conference-leading Golden State Warriors. Houston will then head back out on the road against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. The loss of Harden is a huge blow to the Rockets, but this is still a very dangerous team as long as Capela and Paul are still healthy enough to contribute significant minutes. I expect an easy with against a rebuilding Magic team, followed by a loss against the Warriors and a rebound win against a surprisingly tough Pistons team.

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