Collapsing down the stretch

  • As of this moment, the Houston Rockets sit in sixth in the Western Conference, with a ticket booked for Los Angeles to open up the postseason, if the summer classic were to begin today.  They’ve choked in the manner they do every year around this time, relinquishing a firm grasp on what would have been the franchise’s first division title in 20 years.  It’s pitifully tragic, knowing what this team has overcome and endured this season, that their own undoing will keep them from the praise they deserve.
  • Many of you have asked me on Twitter who I think is to blame, wondering if this may be Kevin McHale’s last dance.  I just don’t think there has to be a culprit in every circumstance, and I just don’t think there’s a culprit here.  Stuff happens.  Houston fought all year, they lost two starters, Dwight Howard is just now getting into rhythm, and James Harden is gassed.  Consequently, the team has unraveled.  Kevin McHale certainly cannot be to blame for any of that.  McHale and the staff had one of the best coaching performances in the league in keeping this team atop of the conference all season.  They’ll certainly get at least another crack at it with this group next season.
  • What has transpired hurts because it pushes this season’s accomplishments into the dustbin of history.  If the team finishes sixth, no one will remember how they overcame all expectations all season, even expectations given for a team with a healthy Dwight Howard, hovering among the top seeds in the brutal West.  People will just look back and see yet another mediocre finish for a franchise that has only known mediocrity for the last two decades.  It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but as a historian of the team, you can see how it bothers me.

  • Barring the miraculous, Friday’s loss just about clinched the MVP for Steph Curry.  Several of you have suggested to me that losing the MVP may not be such a bad thing if it means a motivated Harden in the postseason.  First, if losing the MVP award is what it takes to motivate James, then we have a problem.  Second, this isn’t the 90’s.  I don’t know that one star player playing out of his mind will ever again be enough in the new NBA.  Teams need balanced attacks with multiple contributors to navigate their way through four rounds against the best the league has to offer.  In the grand scheme, the MVP award really doesn’t matter, but it would have been a very cool accolade for a local athlete, and the type of thing that remains the object of a franchise’s pride for decades later.
  • I noted on Twitter, recently, that the great irony is that this Rockets team is something of an anachronism, equipped almost as if from the 90’s or early 00’s.  They have a smashing defense and, probably, the best player in the league.  They have three-point shooting.  And they don’t have much of anything else.  In the olden days, that was enough.  You let your defense dictate one end, and then you handed the ball off to your star for the remainder of the 48, and allowed him to isolate his way to the victory.  Sure, there were the portions of games where you, as they put it, “got other guys involved,” but on the whole, that was the recipe, and it was the recipe for championships.  But at least until the next basketball revolution, with defenses utilizing the new rules to box star players into unnavigable positions, that will never again be enough.  You need ball-handlers and passers that can make quick reads on the fly to react to in-sequence dynamics.  Aside from Harden, Houston has none of those.  They just have brutes on the glass, another boon relic from days past.
  • Friday was why I laughed at those of you throughout the year who suggested the Spurs would be a desirable matchup in the postseason.  Repeat after me: the Spurs are never a desirable matchup.
  • Anything can happen from this point forward, but whatever transpires, the biggest takeaway from this year is that the franchise has a man who legitimately can be the best player in the entire league.  The gravity of that development cannot be overstated.  Even more encouraging is that given his style of play, and physical attributes, you see Harden continuing to develop, and aging gracefully, with maybe even another six years remaining in his prime.  The challenge now, as it seemingly has been the dilemma for all of Daryl Morey’s tenure, is finding the right supporting cast, especially with Dwight Howard seemingly on his last legs, no pun intended.
  • Harden will have to develop a floater at some point, just to avoid contact at the rim, which leads me to my last thought for today: I argued with several of you on Twitter Friday night, whether or not the block by Tim Duncan to seal the game was truly a foul.  I didn’t think it was, and my opinion was validated by the league’s review yesterday.  But those of you engaging me in that debate, were, I think, missing the greater point.  It doesn’t matter if it was really a foul.  The issue at hand is that that sort of contact will never be called a foul at the end of a playoff game.  You can retort that “Kobe would have gotten that call” all you want, but it won’t change things for the Houston Rockets and James Harden.  So rather than whining about ideals, let’s think realistically.  What’s the solution?  Harden obviously can’t keep driving in like this as that is now two games (loss to Memphis) where he has drawn contact that affected his shot.  But conversely, competent scouting will know that James may now be more reluctant to drive, causing long-armed defenders to sit on his jumpshot.  Here’s where a floater would help, but a floater James Harden does not have.  We’ll just have to see what transpires.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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