Close, but no cigar

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Clippers come out on top of Houston 122-119

This will be a tough loss for Rockets fans to swallow considering Houston led for the majority of the second half before surrendering to a 13-4 run in the final 86 seconds of the game. The Rockets fought hard and seemed to know that the Clippers might try to swarm James Harden as the Nuggets had done the night before and were much better prepared for it.

Shooters like Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Thabo Sefolosha were prepared from the start of the game to take and make wide-open shots generated by the defense played on Harden. McLemore had one of his better games of the season, shooting 4 of 9 from three-point range. He was in the correct spots, didn't hesitate to shoot, and came through big for Houston, even in a loss.

Harden was an absolute super hero for the Rockets tonight (37 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals). There's little doubt that the Rockets watched a ton of film on the Denver loss to help be better equipped to face traps in the future. He still managed to be efficient (77.3% true shooting), which is incredible considering the kind of defenders the Clippers were throwing his way (Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, etc...). It's a shame his team couldn't capitalize don't the stretch because this could have been a game to put into Harden's Hall of Fame warchest.

This game, along with Wednesday night's loss to Denver, could come back to haunt the Rockets to end the season. Houston will, without a doubt, be one of the teams Denver and L.A. will battle for position with to close the season. The whole season counts and it's never too early to discuss tiebreakers as the Rockets learned firsthand last season. Without starting small forward Danuel House and sixth man Eric Gordon, it was still an impressive performance (up until the end) nonetheless.

Star of the game: James Harden was pretty much the only reason Houston didn't get blown out tonight. Harden was again getting swarmed all night and he passed well to shooters out of the double teams, which kept Houston in the game. He ended the game with 37 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and surprisingly only 4 turnovers. For the amount of usage he had dealing with the trap all game, that's remarkably low.

Honorable mention: While his streak of 20-rebound games has come to a close, Clint Capela had possibly his best defensive game of the season. Capela was doing a great job doing the balancing act of switching out or playing help defense and getting back in time to protect the rim. He logged 17 points, 19 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

Key moment: Houston's execution in the fourth quarter is what cost them this game. To start, the Rockets fouled the Clippers four times in one possession, putting them in the bonus instantly. Los Angeles capitalized in a big way, getting to the free throw line 16 times compared to Houston's 10 trips. Russell Westbrook's decision making and effort on defense will also be the lasting memory of this game. Not only did he pass up an open P.J. Tucker to take the last three of the game, but with 40 seconds left, Westbrook walked back on a Clippers fastbreak possession leading to a wide-open Lou Williams three.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Mavericks at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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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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