ROCKETS 119, NETS 111

Rockets end losing streak with win over Nets

Chris Paul willed the Rockets to a win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Desperate was not an adjective anyone would have expected to use to describe the Rockets this early in the season. Certainly no one expected a Brooklyn Nets matchup in early November to be considered both a toss-up and a “must-win,” simultaneously, yet here we are. With their backs against the wall yet again, Houston swung back Friday night and finally notched their second win of the season, breaking a four-game losing streak with a 119-111 victory.

The easiest way to describe the Rockets’ performance is to equate it to an old lighter. The first two quarters provided flickers of last season's brilliance, but nothing lasted. The third quarter, however, was where Houston found its ignition point. It was then that the Rockets began to finally resemble what can only be assumed was the actual team general manager Daryl Morey was attempting to assemble this offseason.

The win couldn't come at a better time, as casual onlookers view a 1-5 team and assume the worst. Friday night's victory was proof that Houston's morbid start is the result of being a victim of inopportune circumstances, and nothing more.

Last Friday's blowout loss to the Clippers came with at least five contributors shelved due to injury. Tuesday returned front court help with Marquese Chriss. Friday saw the return of forward James Ennis III. While Chriss remains an experiment at best, Ennis contributed 19 minutes of rotation time which has proven in the past two weeks to be an invaluable commodity. Nevermind his two points. He helped keep the Rockets fresh finally.

It cannot be overstated how desperately Houston needed guard Eric Gordon to break out of his six-game shooting slump, and Game 7 of the season saw him do just that. While only connecting on 2-of-8 from three, Gordon still managed to convert 6-of-14 for 21 points and served as a key contributor in the Rockets’ win.

Carmelo Anthony was not signed to carry the Rockets. Anthony was brought in because of his potential to swing close games, a la Ryan Anderson. Tonight proved to be one such situation, and Anthony delivered with a season-high 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-9 from three.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each seemed to return to form as well, as Paul willed the Rockets to the win behind a 32 point, 11 assist virtuoso performance. Capela simultaneously erupted for 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The collective offensive awakening was only part of the equation, as Houston's initially porous defense suddenly clam-shelled, fueling a Rockets run to retake the lead to begin the second half. The Nets led by 14 late in the second, shooting 71.9 percent until the Rockets took a timeout and regrouped. From that point on, the Nets managed 35.8 percent from the field as Houston stormed back to claim the lead.

The fact that Houston is celebrating a Brooklyn Nets victory is an indictment to the state of the season currently, but sunnier days lie ahead. The Rockets expect to welcome back all-world guard James Harden tonight against the lowly Chicago Bulls in a - finally - very winnable contest. Houston now finds itself with a chance to not only notch a second-straight victory, but begin to build chemistry with a nearly healthy squad. The opportunity couldn't come a moment too soon, as the Rockets will have to jel on the fly while they play catch-up in what's shaping up to be a formidable Western Conference.

 

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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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