Trusting old reliable

Rockets not concerned about James Harden's shooting struggles

James Harden.

When players were giving their standard post game interviews after the Rockets lost to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, word quickly spread that James Harden had gone back onto the main floor to get some shots up. Harden shot 1 for 17 from three-point range and has generally been in a funk for the month of January (35.8% shooting from the field and 26.2% shooting from beyond the arc). When the Rockets needed Harden's signature step-back threes the most in the closing quarter, his shot eluded him and he spent a total of 25 minutes working to recapture that rhythm post-game.

"Just getting back to the basics," explained Harden that night. "When you're struggling, you try to get back to the fundamentals and the basics of your shot form."

One could make a reasonable argument that Harden' shouldn't have taken as many threes that night once he realized he was off. It seems like a basic principal, but the Rockets have lived off of Harden making those difficult threes in tough moments more times than they can count over the past few years. For the Rockets, a team that's crafted their entire offensive identity on Harden going one-on-one an hitting tough, contested jumpers, it's easier said than done.

"You can tell him not to do it, but we've won a lot of games [that way]," said Mike D'Antoni postgame. "That's his game and you kind of live and die with what you got."

D'Antoni will get criticized (and has) for this statement, but until you put yourself in his shoes, it's tough to say he's wrong here. The Rockets have won nearly 200 basketball games with D'Antoni at the helm and most of those wins are directly attributable to Harden hitting tough shots. When you have that kind of success, how do you then go and tell your star player to go away from his bread and butter, even if he's struggling? History has shown it's a winning formula.

"Realistically, he's going to get out of it," said D'Antoni at practice Tuesday. "You don't overreact to it. You don't tell him 'Hey, don't shoot that because you did for three and a half straight years and you won us an average of 58 games a year. Don't do that.' Well, that's crazy."

James Harden is a career 36.4% three-point shooter. He's going to have hot stretches and cold stretches, but in the end, he'll always find himself around that mark (36.1% this season). What stretch you get may just be a matter of luck and the Rockets know that it's something they can't control. If Harden elected to stop shooting, for better or for worse, he wouldn't be the player he is. Part of what makes Harden great is his unabashed confidence to take and make tough jumpers even when he's struggling.

"Those are like regular shots for me," said Harden. "That's what I work on everyday."

Harden's struggles certainly don't help the Rockets, but neither does giving away 41 points in a closing quarter or Houston's horrid transition defense that lose them a game to Memphis the week prior. Houston has a stretch of problems they need to work out before they arrive at Harden's shot selection.

"That's beside the point," said D'Antoni. "Do we switch? Do we get back? Do we talk [on defense]? Do we communicate? Are we tough as a group? Do we overcome problems? That's what we have to focus on [as a team]. Don't focus on the stuff that's frivolous."

And that has been the center of Houston's focus. The Rockets spent an hour watching film of their fourth quarter defensive mishaps from the game against Oklahoma City before speaking to the media. They believe those issues take priority over anything the team is not doing offensively right now.

"Obviously I want to make every shot that I shoot," said Harden. "It doesn't happen. The more you work, the more confidence you have in yourself to be able to keep shooting those shots and doing what you do."

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The Astros are a better story than the Braves. Period. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

For the past few days, we've heard and read baseball analysts predicting who'll win the World Series, our Houston Astros or the Atlanta Braves. It's usually the same tired cliche ... the Astros (or Braves) … "in six."

For the record, the World Series has been decided "in six" only four times in the past quarter-century.

First, these experts are no better than you, me or a chimp hurling feces at photos of Orbit or Chief Noc-A-Homa. Predictions on sports shows are just a time-killer before the hosts turn it over to the midday guy.

Those pre-game, former-player hosts on Fox, TBS and MLB Network couldn't be more boring and just plain silly. They're trying too hard. A-Rod is creepy, Big Papi isn't funny and Frank Thomas just sits there worrying about his hormone levels. I can't even name the host on Fox. On top of that, they were wrong on the Red Sox beating the Astros.

I remember walking into the living room where my father was watching a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Browns scored and my father pumped his fist, "All right!" I asked him, "Why are you rooting for the Browns? We live in New Jersey."

He said, "I always root for the team farther east." It made as much sense as anything else he ever said. Another time he was watching a political debate between candidates for mayor of New York City. One of the candidates said the word "either" and pronounced it "eye-ther." My father was put off by his uppity pronunciation and said, "That's it, I can't vote for that guy now."

I thought, how about the fact we don't live in New York City and there's zero chance you're registered to vote anywhere, anyhow?

For the record, Pittsburgh is farther east than Cleveland. My father was never a "I'll take geography for $600" guy.

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale reportedly has bet $3.35 million on the Astros to win the World Series and stands to win $35.6 million if they do. It would be the biggest haul in the history of legal sports gambling in America.

Mattress Mack told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "I will never in my life bet against the Houston Astros. It's loyalty. And I'm loyal to the Houston Astros."

It's as good a reason as any. I will bet you $3.25 dollars that Mattress Mack can't name the Astros centerfielder.

Here's my World Series prediction, and if you've been following SportsMap you know I've been riding the Astros since spring training.

The Astros in 4. You know why the Astros will sweep? It's because they're just gonna. No analytical rhyme or reason. They're just gonna.

The Astros are a better story than the Braves. Just like it took a whole year before the Chicago Black Sox were found guilty and punished for throwing the 1919 World Series, it took years for the Astros' cheating ways of 2017 to be prosecuted. This is the Astros first venture onto baseball's grandest stage since the sign-stealing scandal went public.

The Astros are on a revenge mission to prove they can win fair and square. The team, especially the five holdovers from 2017, are seeking, not forgiveness, but vindication and respect. And they're reveling in wearing black hats.

The Astros are a curious lot. Will Dusty Baker, a toothpick-chewing, surgical glove-wearing "cool 72-year-old" be back next year? Does owner Jim Crane have the business testicles to let clutch-hitting team leader Carlos Correa sign with another team? What to do with high-priced veterans who haven't helped a lick this season?

In their own villainous way, the Astros are the glamour team in the 2021 World Series. Baseball needs a headline-grabbing Series to get back on track as the national pastime (although that door probably closed decades ago). A dismal, dull affair (credit: Jagger-Richards) with the Braves winning is the last thing baseball needs.

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