NBA REWIND

Rockets keep on rolling, extend win streak to 7 games

James Harden and the Rockets continue to soar. Rockets.com

Week seven of the NBA season saw the Rockets up to their usual steamrolling tactics, overwhelming teams from three and playing great defense. There was little drama to be had this week as the Rockets made easy work out of a relatively soft week of games. The Rockets remain first in the conference, with a one game lead on Golden State. San Antonio trails the Rockets in the division by 3.5 games.

Game 20: Rockets vs Brooklyn Nets (W, 117-103)

James Harden went for the throat early, going 5-5 from three on the way to a 20-point first quarter. Those 20 points were part of a 43-26 first quarter, which ultimately proved insurmountable to the Nets. Chris Paul added a season high 14 assists and Clint Capela contributed his third 20-point effort of the season. Harden would finish with 37 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.

Game 21: Rockets vs Indiana Pacers (W, 118-97)

Watching from the stands, a friend leaned over with a concerned look on their face as the Pacers closed out the first quarter with the lead.

“Don’t worry,” is all I replied.

A close first half concluded with a slight Rockets lead. That lead would explode late in the third, concluding in what has become a typical Rockets blowout. All of the Rockets’ starters registered double digit points, while Harden flirted with yet another triple double (29 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists). Capela added 22, marking his first consecutive 20-point outings of the season to go with 13 rebounds and two blocks.

Game 22: Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers (W, 118-95)

Late Sunday night the Rockets matched up with the Lakers for the first time this season and emerged from the Staples Center with their seventh straight victory. Offense was at a premium, as Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon would ultimately be the only three Rockets players who would score in double digits. Each was highly effective, however, scoring 36, 21, and 22 respectively. With the help of Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Brook Lopez, the Lakers pulled to within 3 halfway through the 3rd. A P.J. Tucker 3-pointer on the other side seemingly ended the Lakers’ run and the Rockets’ lead would balloon from there. Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball would finish the game 0-4 with 2 points, 3 assists, and 1 rebound.

Takeaways:

  • After helping Harden shoulder most of the scoring load, Gordon’s production has dropped off considerably, averaging only 12.7 points per game in his last 7 games. It could be a result of Paul’s return to the roster, or that less playing time with Harden has resulted in having to create more of his own shot.

  • So much for home court advantage: The Rockets are now 10-1 on the road, having won the last six consecutive road games by 15 or more points.

  • It seems like every week it’s either Eric Gordon or Clint Capela playing the glue guy. With Gordon slumping, Capela has shouldered the load this past week, averaging 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds.

Looking Ahead:

This week the Rockets have a light workload, with a Thursday game at Utah and Saturday at Portland. Thursday will be the second time the Rockets have faced the Jazz, the first time being a matchup that involved Harden scoring a career-high 56 points. Saturday will be the first matchup between the Rockets and Trailblazers. The Trailblazers are 13-10 at the moment and are second in the league in rebounding. It’s hard at this point to look at a team with 10 or more losses as a team that could pose a challenge, however Blazer’s point guard Damian Lilliard is really difficult to sleep on. In a fairly soft point of the schedule, Portland should pose the toughest test of the past three weeks. I see the Rockets taking at least one of the two, extending their win streak to at least eight, and facing a tough test in Portland.

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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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