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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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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