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The Houston Rockets are expected to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals out of the loaded West. In the team’s opening night in front of 18,240 fans inside the Toyota Center, they lost 105-85 to the Denver Nuggets, a team some think is the worst in the NBA. All this with James Harden having the kind of night that makes him nothing but a nuisance.

Playing without Dwight Howard is a problem obviously, although the Rockets managed quite well without him last season during some absences. One loss that hasn’t been talked about enough is the loss of Josh Smith, as the Rockets once again build a team without a decent backup center. Clint Capela started, scoring 9 points with 7 boards. Montrezl Harrell, the rookie, did well in 16 minutes, but it’s not enough, and he won’t be playing too much at the moment.

So who is needed? James Harden of course. It’s going to be a while before Ty Lawson is playing at the high level he did when on the Denver Nuggets, finishing with 12 points and 6 assists but just 30% from the field when playing against his former team. All eyes were on Harden to take the lead, but it just wasn’t his night. The problem is Harden didn’t seem to care, and kept pushing for something to work, and it only made things worse.

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Let us stop for a second and look at the Nuggets. Emmanuel Mudiay made it seem like him being a rookie is a non issue. He did turn the ball over 11 times, but also finished with 17 points and 9 assists. The Nuggets did good with that one. Kenneth Faried enjoyed having no one to contest him near the rim to score 18 points and grab 9 rebounds. But the best was Danilo Gallinari, now one season of shedding rust behind him, ready to once again be the main scorer for this team. He finished with 23 points and 8 rebounds in a fantastic performance, while the bench surprised through Will Barton and Jameer Nelson, combining for 21 points.

Back to Harden. While the Nuggets played like a team, the Rockets were something like one of those 60’s Motown All-Girl lineups with one star and the rest just in the background so you can call it a group act. Harden finished with 22 points but shot 6-of-21 from the field and 2-of-12 from beyond the arc. Sometimes he makes up for these bad games by getting to the line, but when everything is so bad, 8-of-9 from the line just isn’t enough. Harden needed more help from the referees.

Obviously, Harden isn’t the worst player in the league. He’s actually one of the best. But when stars of teams fail to recognize what’s going on around them and keep trying to force something that just isn’t going to work, they cause more damage than the 12th best player on a roster can. Actually trying to try through teamwork to get over the slump isn’t such a bad idea, but I guess Harden and Kevin McHale still haven’t figured that one out.

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