After last playing on Friday, the Rockets will enjoy four full days off before facing the L.A. Lakers in Houston on Wednesday. With Kobe Bryant sidelined and Pau Gasol playing the worst basketball of his career (and hell, maybe even traded by then), this is a game the Rockets should easily win. So they’ll most likely lose. Expect Nick Young to go for 30 in a high scoring affair featuring many open three pointers. Houston then travels to Atlanta to take on a Hawks team that has lost center Al Horford for the remainder of the season. It’s a squad that features forward Paul Millsap, a player over whom I once said I’d prefer keeping Omer Asik…before I realized Brandon Bass was the alternative. So there’s that. Lastly, the good guys travel to Washington the very next night to face the team I wish I had picked in my League Pass 5 over the Bulls, especially now that three of my teams have been decimated (Cavaliers, Clippers, Bulls) and rendered unwatchable. The Wizards are 14-16 and fifth in the East; The Rockets are 22-13 and fifth in the West. Parity. John Wall is electrifying and worth his new contract. But this also once happened.
At 22-13, and fifth in the West, the Houston Rockets have thus far performed below expectations. When that happens in professional sports, much of the blame typically lies at the feet of the star player. Six Red94 writers got together to discuss the case of James Harden and some of the problems in Houston.
Rahat:Richard Li’s latest piece has really got me thinking. The Rockets have one of the worst crunch-time offenses in basketball and this is a continuation from last season. And of course, the Rockets’ crunch time offense essentially is…James Harden. Michael Pina wrote a piece earlier in the week on Harden’s ever-evolving offensive game. But the rest of us have written extensively on his lack of even feigning effort on the defensive end. How much of the problem in Houston right now is Harden?
Rob: It’s easy to get sucked into focusing too much on Harden’s flaws, but I think we are generally a little quick to criticise him. You only have to look at the box score from Friday’s game against the Knicks to realise how valuable a player he can be – 37 points on 19 shots is going to take a lot of negatives to counter-balance! The grumbling starts when he goes through an offensive funk, and suddenly there are a few games where he doesn’t quite have the ballast to set on the scales against his poor defense and late-game mismanagement. The Rockets are unfortunate enough to have been going through one of those periods recently, and that’s why we’re starting to feel more down on him than we should be.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Sacramento, this was a key game for the Rockets to get back on track. Some bad habits have been forming that it would have been nice to see broken, but more important was to get a win to stop the team from sliding any further down the Western Conference standings. They weren’t perfect, and they left it late, but eventually they hung on for an important win.
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Red94 is a blog about the NBA's Houston Rockets. It was created in 2009 by Rahat Huq and inducted into ESPN.com's TrueHoop Network that same year. Follow @redninetyfour on Twitter for all new post updates.