What a game, what a night in Houston

As James Harden stepped to the line at Toyota Center late last night in the 4th, the first MVP chants in eight years from the home crowd poured down upon him.  He calmly sank points 45 and 46, sealing the victory for the Rockets.  Afterward, head coach Kevin McHale described Harden as flawless offensively and “unguardable off the catch.”  From anyone’s vantage point, that’s pretty spot-on analysis.

The most interesting part there came in the form of McHale’s comment that Harden was at his best “off the catch.”  Earlier in the year, I had asserted that because, unlike Jeremy Lin, Harden could actually be effective “off the catch” (ie: not needing a live dribble), the team was as its best when Lin was playing the point guard role (ie: facilitating) and dishing to Harden.  Ironically though, despite McHale’s comments, Harden’s damage last night came off the dribble, with Lin effectively playing the ’2′.

On that note, in my opinion, the most encouraging development from last night’s win, even moreso than Harden’s 46 points, was the fact that Jeremy Lin scored 28 points in the same game.  On top of that, it was the manner in which Lin did his damage which bode best for the duo’s future coexistence.  When he wasn’t attacking the hoop in transition, Lin was spotting up for 3′s off Harden kickouts – he hit numerous big ones, down the stretch.  As we’ve noted, for Lin to be able to coexist with Harden, he simply must develop his spot up shooting to a level of proficiency.  Last night demonstrated how dangerous this team can be if the point guard is knocking down those open shots.

How good is Harden?  Prior to the deadline, I stated that he was no worse than the seventh best player in the league at this point.  Right now, I might even move him higher.  Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul are the three guys who are unarguably superior.  After that?  With Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose hobbled, who is definitively better than The Beard?  It’s not just that Harden is tearing up the league – it’s that he’s winning and with no fellow star by his side.  I don’t think even Daryl Morey himself thought Harden would be this good, this fast.

[The lasting image in my mind from this recent Harden stretch is the image of the stepback '3', first over Lebron James and then last night, over Kevin Durant.  The performances, in a way, symbolized redemption for Harden, as, while the Rockets lost to Miami, he showed he can be effective against the Heat, and then last night, that he can conquer his old foes.]

The more bizarre news of yesterday was that the win came on a night when the team had traded away four rotation regulars and its entire power forward depth chart.  When I arrived at Toyota Center, while heading towards the lockerroom, I was informed by some colleagues that Marcus Morris had just been traded.  No one knew where but just minutes before, in the same spot I was standing, Kevin McHale had stated that the backup power forward would be inactive.

We speculated on the possibilities in the workroom and consensus conclusion was that at best, the team had used Morris to fetch a draft pick.  It wasn’t until the team hit the floor that news had broke that starter Patrick Patterson had also been dealt and that in return, the team had reeled in this year’s #5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from the Kings.  My jaw dropped.

I don’t know much about Robinson, but the fact that the Kings would give up on such a high lottery choice so quickly left me speechless. Even more surprising–though I’m not sure why I still get surprised–was that the cost for Morey was just two former #14′s.

I’ve spoken highly of both Morris and Patterson in the past.  But they were what they were – limited players who had reached their ceilings.  Robinson may end up a bust, but he has potential far greater than either of the two men shipped out, and he’s on a rookie deal for the next few years.  In fact, the trade will end up clearing more cap space for the team this summer.  (For a full analysis of the deal, see Michael Pina’s piece from this morning.)  This is the type of high-upside move for which Daryl Morey has become famous.

Finally, multiple sources are reporting now that the Rockets are engaged in serious talks with the Atlanta Hawks for forward Josh Smith.  Some speculation is that the recently acquired Robinson would be used in the deal.  I wrote on Monday that the team should pursue Smith and then allow him to walk in the summer.  It’s unclear if Houston would have long-term interest in re-upping the Hawks forward, but for now, it seems they have enough to at least entice Atlanta in talks.  Stay tuned.

View this discussion from the forum.

This entry was posted in game coverage and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Login to leave a comment.
Total comments: 14
  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago Yeah, that's why I specified the sane version...with better people skills. I think we all lost out, as fans, when Arenas went South....the guy was great entertainment. I can't really think of a better comparison...I guess he'll just have to be the one and only James Harden.
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago @thejohnnygold I think we just wish the comparison you drew was with a player who didn't burn out so quickly.. Arenas, in his prime, was one of my favorite players to watch though.
  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago I would call the Arenas-comparison a compliment to Harden. There was a three year window where Arenas was plain unstoppable. I never felt like he was a PG--which was his biggest flaw....he averaged about 28 pts, 4 rbs, and 6 asts for a three year window....then his legs went and he tried to become a traditional PG with 13 pts. and 10 ast avg. but ultimately, the gun in the locker room ended it all....and the crazy, the crazy was more than he could manage.

    The beauty is Harden drawing a comparison to a player's best years...and he is still finding out how good he can be in his 4th year. I think his ultimate ceiling will be higher.

    Watching that OKC game was like watching Arenas in his prime....he was a late game assassin inside and outside and he was fearless. I promise you, 98% of the players in the NBA would love to be as good as he was.
  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago I wouldn't trade harden for anyone outside of lebron/durrant. sure there are other stars, but none fit what we are doing with the remainder of our roster like harden does. melo might get some consideration, but (IMO)harden is a top 5 talent. we could debate all day long on which stars deserve to be top five, but as for how our team is constructed harden is the man and I am comfortable with that. harden is a player who if surrounded with the right peices can take us to the promise land. I have no doubt about that. I could not be more pleased in the direction we are heading. this team may be on the cusp of doing something really special if we continue to add players like we did this trade deadline. after the season free agency is our next chance to upgrade and depending on who we land we could be have contender discussions this time next year...........GO ROCKETS!
  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    timetodienow1234567, on 21 February 2013 - 23:13 PM said:




    I watched his battles with Lebron. At his peak, he wasn't the player Harden is today. Just my opinion. He was a PG with less PG skills than Harden as a SG has. But in terms of hero-ball, then I can agree with you. But as an overall player, I still think it's disrespectful to Harden.


    Not saying you are right or wrong, just clarifying a position.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    Steven, on 21 February 2013 - 23:08 PM said:


    He meant it as the Agent Zero who blew up as a second round pick in the Bay Area and became a max player with the Bullets before his legs broke down.


    I watched his battles with Lebron. At his peak, he wasn't the player Harden is today. Just my opinion. He was a PG with less PG skills than Harden as a SG has. But in terms of hero-ball, then I can agree with you. But as an overall player, I still think it's disrespectful to Harden.
  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    timetodienow1234567, on 21 February 2013 - 21:02 PM said:




    That's pretty disrespectful to Harden.


    He meant it as the Agent Zero who blew up as a second round pick in the Bay Area and became a max player with the Bullets before his legs broke down.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    thejohnnygold, on 21 February 2013 - 20:54 PM said:


    What if I said James Harden is the "sane" version of gilbert arenas with better teammate skills?


    That's pretty disrespectful to Harden.
  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago What if I said James Harden is the "sane" version of gilbert arenas with better teammate skills?
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    PKM, on 21 February 2013 - 18:28 PM said:


    We're not talking about tradability, we're talking about simple "who's the best player." Duncan is far better than Anthony Davis, yet there's no way the Hornets would trade Davis for Duncan. Harden may have more trade value than Tony Parker due to his youth and contract, but I think Parker's still a better player. Parker's a better finish and has led a better team. And there is absolutely no argument for Harden being better than Chris Paul, who was my pick for MVP around late December - early January.


    I was looking at it more as value to the (any) team, both long term and short. At this point, yes Paul is better, hands down, but I don't think we've seen the best from Harden yet. Debatable about Parker, I think, vs Harden, as I think Parker's success is largely a product of the team he plays for and the organization surrounding him, still a tremendous player though.
  • PKM says 1 YEAR ago We're not talking about tradability, we're talking about simple "who's the best player." Duncan is far better than Anthony Davis, yet there's no way the Hornets would trade Davis for Duncan. Harden may have more trade value than Tony Parker due to his youth and contract, but I think Parker's still a better player. Parker's a better finish and has led a better team. And there is absolutely no argument for Harden being better than Chris Paul, who was my pick for MVP around late December - early January.
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    PKM, on 21 February 2013 - 16:44 PM said:


    When it comes to Harden's ranking, I think it comes to me in the form of tiers.

    James-Durant are one level on their own, and Paul is clearly one level below. After that, you have Melo-Harden-Kobe-Wade-Parker-Westbrook-Duncan, and I think you could put all 7 of those guys in realistically any order. I would put Harden third in that group behind Melo and Parker, so 6th overall.


    Interesting... So let's ask like this: If news were out that Harden was to be traded for any one of those players below the James/Durant level, would you be OK with it? Start with Paul, if he were the sole star on this team, would we be as successful as we are with Harden? Signs from his years in NOLA, point to no, and he still had Chandler to lob to. Parker for Harden? No. Melo? maybe. Other than that due to varying factors like age, I would say no to the rest on this list.

    Anybody still iffy about losing Ppat and Morris, needs to look at how much we missed them last night against the defending WC champs... not at all is the correct answer. I don't see how Robinson could be any worse at that position, maybe worse but in a less-than-noticeable-difference type way. I do hope he could be flipped for Smith today though. Not totally sold on Smith but at least we have the rest of the season to decide if he's long-term material or not before tying any money around his neck. I wouldn't want to wait until he is a FA, too big a risk. With our current crew, athletic bigs like Robinson and Smith will almost certainly get us at least 7 games deep in the post-season if not further this year. It doesn't hurt to have a spreadable big like D-mo waiting on the bench also. With Smith and Robinson at PF, we can even play D-mo at C sometimes and really screw up some Ds. I've had a suspicion since early December that Morey was showcasing Ppat and Morris for a deal like this, which is the only justifiable reason for not giving D-mo and Jones more burn.

    Anyway it's a great week so far in Rocketland. Way to go Morey! Keep it up!
  • spinna87 says 1 YEAR ago I think he hit the step back three to tie the game over Ibaka. But regardless, what a game. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I haven't been this excited about our team in years. We've got bigger things coming. Also, I'm not completely sold on this Robinson acquisition. I understand that Mook and 2Pat have reached their ceilings, but Robinson, while high energy, is not someone I thought highly of coming out of college. But, in Morey we trust, he's always making the right decisions.
  • PKM says 1 YEAR ago When it comes to Harden's ranking, I think it comes to me in the form of tiers.

    James-Durant are one level on their own, and Paul is clearly one level below. After that, you have Melo-Harden-Kobe-Wade-Parker-Westbrook-Duncan, and I think you could put all 7 of those guys in realistically any order. I would put Harden third in that group behind Melo and Parker, so 6th overall.