The Los Angeles Lakers had a stunning win over the Houston Rockets earlier this season. Things weren’t very similar in the second meeting between the teams, which presented the usual brand of selfish basketball from James Harden while ignoring teammates like Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard, only this time it worked out pretty well for him, leading to a 113-99 win.
There are quite a few definitions of fool’s gold, especially if you check out what the Urban Dictionary has to offer, but I’m pretty sure James Harden should be labeled as such. These kind of games are exactly the reason the Houston Rockets will do reasonably well during the regular season, but not more than that, because this style of basketball always loses to a better team and defense in a playoff series.
It’s hard to complain about Harden when he scored 38 points on 14-of-23 from the field, finishing with 5 steals. The Los Angeles Lakers are fun to watch, but they’re also terrible and inefficient when it comes to execution, resulting in wild and blind passes and 18 turnovers. The Rockets scored 27 fast break points, which helped them make it a very easy fourth quarter after pretty much ending the game in the third quarter after outscoring the Lakers by 18 points.
But the problem with Harden is that these nights are only part of the story. He follows them with the same kind of selfishness even with less open court opportunities. The late shot clock chucks or getaways remain, and against a better defense than the Lakers (which is pretty much most of the league), it doesn’t usually work out that well.
The Houston Rockets have the talent to be better than that – to be a team that doesn’t rely on one man’s scoring and mood, but they keep falling into the same trap after every big night from Harden. He is so talented at putting up points on his own, but it blinds him and his head coach into thinking it’s going to work every time. When the surprising losses do come, it seems like it came out of nowhere, but the writing has been on the wall since this team was put together before the 2012-2013 season.
Dwight Howard wasn’t frustrated this time with the defense, but with the Hack-a-Dwight tactics. Chris Kaman reportedly told him to take it easy, that he’s only doing his job. Howard went to the line 24 times during the game, making only 10 of those shots. He finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 4 steals, but was left slightly frustrated by getting hit so many times and missing so much from the free throw line.
Heading into a four-game road trip, the Rockets are facing another test. McHale spoke after the game about the defense finally stepping up in the second half, which is something that hasn’t happened much this season. Harden spoke about needing to be more energetic and focused earlier in games. That’s all true – the Rockets have problems as a team, which a lot come from their bad coaching, but it’s impossible not to blame the players for simply being lazy as well.
Jeremy Lin has proven multiple times this season that he’s just as effective as Harden in the clutch, only he doesn’t do it through soloist ambition and ignoring the rest of the team. In the win over the Lakers he had a quiet performance, almost unnoticed at times because of the usual, well known reasons of being forced to take a back seat to the Harden show. The same kind of thought process in this road trip and for the rest of this season is going to leave a lot of people very frustrated.