THE ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets go 1-2 to fall back to .500 mark at 9-9

James Harden and the Rockets went 1-2 last week. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

After pulling off an improbable sweep the week before, the Rockets struggled to distance themselves from the .500 mark they had recently positioned themselves around. Houston was able to take the first of a one and one against the Pistons early in the week, but the Pistons would even the season series on Friday in overtime. The Cleveland Cavaliers would deny Houston the opportunity to shrug off the loss and would go on to hand the Rockets their second straight defeat in as many days. Houston is now 9-9, fourth in the Southwest Division, and 11th in the Western Conference.

Game 16: Houston vs Detroit Pistons (W, 126-124)

In a game between two evenly matched teams with similar records, the product on the court certainly delivered. After a closely contested first half, Houston seized control through much of the second half. Pistons Forward Blake Griffin was disinterested in the Rockets 14-point lead late in the fourth and with the help of his five 3-pointers with less than five minutes left in regulation, Detroit found themselves within four points. Harden would take control and ice the game however, finishing the night with a season-high 43 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Clint Capela finished with 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Game 17: Houston at Detroit Pistons (L, 116-111/OT)

Black Friday found the Rockets taking on the Pistons for a second consecutive game, albeit as visitors this time. This time around, the Pistons were in complete control until a third quarter Houston run seized the lead back. Both teams would trade blows and the score was tied at the end of four. Detroit would pull away in overtime, however, snapping Houston’s five game winning streak. Harden led the effort with 33 points and 8 assists, while Capela turned in an even more monstrous performance from the night before with 29 points, 21 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Game 18: Houston at Cleveland Cavaliers (L, 117-108)

Chris Paul sat out Saturday night as the Rockets played the Cavaliers in the second part of a back to back where Cleveland controlled the game almost the entire night. Cavs rookie guard Collin Sexton traded highlight reel finishes with Harden as he led Cleveland with 29 points. Harden - forced to shoulder more of the offensive load with Paul out - poured in 40 points and 13 assists while playing the entire second half.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets have a busy week starting Monday in D.C. against the Wizards. Houston will return home for a Wednesday match against Dallas before heading down I-10 for a Friday game against the Spurs and a Saturday tilt at home with the Bulls. All of these teams this week are very beatable with a healthy Rockets team. I predict a 3-1 week to put some space between the Rockets and their current .500 mark.

 

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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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