THE ROCKETS REPORT

Win streak comes to an end, but Rockets still roll through 3-1 week

James Harden and Chris Paul said goodbye to their winning streak. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Another week down, another week of dominating performance from the Rockets. After dismantling the Thunder and Bucks, Houston’s latest winning streak met its end at 17 games against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. The Rockets would quickly recover, rest MVP candidate James Harden, and obliterate the Mavericks on Sunday afternoon. In spite of the loss, Houston increased its conference lead against the Golden State Warriors to 1.5 games and maintains the best overall record in the NBA.

Game 63: Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (W, 122-112)

Houston fans were looking forward to this rematch since the end of December, when the Thunder defeated a Rockets squad sans Harden. At full strength, Houston weathered a turnover-riddled first half while maintaining a healthy lead over OKC. Harden was less than polished, commiting 10 turnovers on his own. Chris Paul picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 25 points overall. Harden finished with 23, while Ariza finished with 15 of his own.

Game 64: Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks (W, 110-99)

With their winning streak reaching 16 games, the Rockets arrived in Milwaukee the following night to take on another playoff eligible squad. Much like the night before, however, a seemingly competitive matchup turned into yet another cruising victory. The Rockets looked more than anything as if they were just going through the motions while they maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game. Harden led with 26 points, and Eric Gordon followed with 18. Chris Paul chipped in 16 and 11 assists.

Game 65: Rockets at Toronto Raptors (L, 108-105)

After a day of rest, the Rockets headed north of the border to extend try and even the season series against the Raptors, while keeping their streak intact. From the outset, Houston found itself in what has lately become unfamiliar territory: trailing in a game. Not only were the Rockets trailing, they were basically being run out of building. With Toronto’s lead ballooning all the way to 19 at one point, Houston knew it needed to get to work. The second half of the game saw a much more focused Rockets squad, and Harden set to work chipping away at the Raptors’ lead. Clutch shot after clutch shot drew Houston to within one point with 10 seconds left in regulation, but a pair of key free throws from Toronto sent the Rockets home with a broken streak. Harden finished the night with 40 points, while no other Rocket scored higher than 14.

Game 66: Rockets at Dallas Mavericks (W, 105-82)

The Mavericks didn’t deserve to be the Rockets’ next opponent, following their first defeat since late January. Whoever Houston played was going to bear the brunt of a frustrated and refocused Houston squad, and even with Harden resting Sunday afternoon Dallas was easily outmatched. Gordon covered for Harden’s absence, leading the team with 26 points, while Paul added 24 points and 12 assists. This was the fourth and final matchup against Dallas this season and the win made this the second year in a row that Houston has swept the Mavericks regular season matchups.

Looking Ahead:

Monday the Rockets will see the Spurs at home for the third matchup of the season between the two teams. Following that, Houston hosts the Clippers on Thursday before heading out on the road next weekend against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves.

The Spurs have proven to be an easy out this season, but I’ve seen too much of Gregg Popovich's sorcery over the years to ever feel 100% confident with any San Antonio matchup. The Clippers should be an easy win, unlike Saturday’s contest against New Orleans--provided Anthony Davis plays. The Timberwolves have been outclassed by the Rockets all season, and this season series finally should prove no different. In all, I expect Houston to continue churning through their schedule to close out the last few weeks of the regular season.


 

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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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