James Harden

This isn’t what a team thinking about challenging for the title looks like, and a “superstar” like James Harden can’t be playing this badly and keep on doing the same thing as the Houston Rockets lose 123-116 to the Denver Nuggets, as Jeremy Lin was the only bright spot from the starting lineup that was benched for most of the fourth quarter.

Without Dwight Howard the Rockets aren’t going anywhere, which means that even home court advantage against the Blazers, if they manage to hang on to it, might not be enough for them eventually. Patrick Beverley not playing is also a problem, but there is simply no excuse for the kind of lazy and awful defense we keep seeing from Houston as James Harden and Chandler Parsons (not alone obviously) headline the biggest of problems.

Harden himself, after an excellent run of games, showed what exactly fool’s gold means. Harden plays the same way all the time, which is shoot first and second as options for him. Sometimes a bit more open court looks make him seem like a pass-first player, but that has never been him, and never will be. So why make him the guy who handles the ball all the time? Decision making should be the number one criteria for that role, not the ability to score.

Why? Because when things go bad, as they clearly did for Harden in the loss, it turns really ugly, and there’s no one with enough sense to change the course of things. Harden scored only 10 points on an awful 1-of-9 game from the field, 0-of-4 from beyond the arc and luckily getting his usual due from the line with a perfect 8-of-8. But that’s just the problem with bad games from Harden: There never seems to be a plan B for McHale, who insists on letting Harden carry the offense, even if it means sinking the ship.

Jeremy Lin was actually the best player for the Rockets, but alone isn’t enough. He isn’t Harden who has the knack to sometimes almost win games on his own, but that usually comes when the team plays like one, at least defensively. Jeremy Lin can make a team look better, but he needs some cooperation, and there was none from those he needed to step up. He finished with 18 points and six assists, but wasn’t part of the fourth quarter comeback which was simply a desperation act and a bunch of subs playing like there’s no tomorrow, unlike most of the starting lineup.

Back to back games with travel from California to Colorado isn’t easy, but it isn’t an excuse. This is the kind of loss, with the Rockets pretty much looking like the same team from last season except Terrence Jones in the power forward positions. The same problems, the same mistakes. A head coach that doesn’t learn and doesn’t adjust won’t get the best out of his team, never will. And if letting James Harden go unpunished (which means playing too many minutes) despite damaging the team with almost every decision he makes just goes to show once more that Jeremy Lin is fighting a losing battle, and no matter how good he’ll be, the credit he deserves will never be his.

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