Sub-optimal

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets lose to Trail Blazers in Houston 117-107

Coming off a tough game in Memphis in which five Rockets played over 32 minutes each, Houston was a team with little to no energy and it showed. The back-to-back doesn't excuse Houston's lack of energy and that's what will come to bite Houston at the end of the season when they're trying to make a push for a top seed.

The effort defensively was non-existent (114.1 defensive rating) as their lack of rotations led to open shot after open shot and gave the Trail Blazers enough breathing room to stay in the game. James Harden's lack of effort in particular, stood out. Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore, and Clint Capela all took more field goal attempts than Harden tonight. In his defense, the Trail Blazers did a fair bit of trapping tonight and he played 39 minutes the night before. However, the Rockets were counting on Harden to lead them in the fourth quarter when Westbrook opened up the window and he played passively.

After the game, Mike D'Antoni took several minutes longer than usual before speaking to the media and it turned out it was because the Rockets held a post-game meeting with the team discussing a lot of their issues.

"Just playing hard," said Westbrook when asked what's been lacking with the Rockets. "Xs and Os don't really matter. Just playing consistently on a night-in and night-out basis."

This is a make or break moment for the Rockets. As D'Antoni said post-game, the team is in a rough spot (lost 3 out of their last 4 games) and there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved before Houston can truly hit their ceiling.

Star of the game: Russell Westbrook was the only reason the Rockets were even in the game in the fourth quarter. Westbrook had one of his best games of the season, logging 31 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and 1 steal on 11 of 22 shooting from the field and 2 of 5 shooting from three-point range.

Honorable mention: Clint Capela might still be dealing with right heel soreness, but that hasn't stopped him from putting up awesome numbers these past few games. Capela logged 14 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal on 7 of 14 shooting from the field. Against Hassan Whiteside, Mike D'Antoni had no choice but to play Capela a lot (36 minutes) and despite the loss, Capela took advantage of the opportunity.

Key moment: The bottom fell out for the Rockets in the second quarter where the Trail Blazers outscored them 32 to 21. Houston shot 3 of 14 from three-point range and missed on several good looks. On the other side, Portland shot 3 of 6 from three-point range and a returning Carmelo Anthony scored 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting from the field. C.J. McCollum had 8 points of his own on 3 of 6 shooting from the field. The Rockets were feisty in the fourth quarter, but were never able to fully recover from this quarter.

Up next: The Rockets play the Los Angeles Lakers at 7:30 p.m. in Houston on Saturday.

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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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