Stuck in mud

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall to Grizzlies in Memphis 121-110

It's games like this that make buying a lot of stock into the Rockets as serious title contenders difficult. Sure they were on the road and without Russell Westbrook, but Houston still had more than enough talent to defeat this upstart Grizzlies squad.

The Rockets actually started the game with decent intensity, taking a 19-8 lead to in the first 5 minutes. James Harden was rolling (17 points in the first quarter) and Houston was doing just enough to keep a small lead over the Grizzlies. Then, Harden went to the bench, the Rockets completely forgot how to score or defend, and they were completely outmatched by the Grizzlies athleticism (25 transition points allowed).

Outside of Clint Capela, the Rockets had no answer for defending Jonas Valanciunas who ran rough shot over a smaller Rockets team (19 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field). Houston elected to go small with P.J. Tucker at center which may have been a mistake as not only could they not defend Valencias, they also had no rim protection to defend against the constant lob threat Memphis posed.

There's no going around it - this was a bad loss for the Rockets. After a resounding 139-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Houston, they could not bring the same energy against Memphis. They'll have an opportunity to bounce back in Houston against the Trail Blazers in Houston, but it'll be interesting to see how much gas they have left in the tank (Harden and Tucker each played 38 or more minutes each).

Star of the game: Clint Capela was the only Rocket tonight that had a positive plus/minus (+3). Capela logged 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 2 assists on 6 of 7 shooting from the field and 5 of 5 shooting from the free throw line (Capela has only missed 4 free throws in the past 7 games). The Rockets struggled mightily with Capela on the bench as they ad no answer for Jonas Valanciunas (19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block on 8 of 14 shooting).

Honorable mention: If James Harden hadn't shot as poorly as he did tonight, it's like the Rockets win the game and he receives player of the game. Harden had 40 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 block on 13 of 37 shooting from the field and 5 of 19 shooting from three-point range. Harden actually started the game shooting the ball lights out (17 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field and 2 of 3 shooting from three-point range).

Key moment: The Rockets had actually took a commanding lead over the Grizzlies out of the gate (19-8 lead by the 7:32 of the first quarter). Things slowly snowballed from there in the Grizzlies direction as they took a 59-47 lead by the 6:17 of the second quarter. Harden was off, the Rockets couldn't score or defend in the minutes that he was on the bench, and Ja Morant took over the game.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Portland Trail Blazers at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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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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