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Haters gonna hate: Animosity toward Rockets and Harden grows as wins pile up

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The Rockets still have some vocal doubters out there, but they’re running out of things to say.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets officially have people shook.

It’s been a while since we could honestly say that and truly believe it with the wholeness of our hearts, but it’s true. Opposing coaches are shook. Fanbases even more.

I talked about this briefly in the game thread earlier this week when the Rockets battled the Timberwolves, but as Houston wins game after game (they’re a ridiculous 27-3 over their last 30 games), including ending the 13-game winning streak of the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night, it’s incredible to see people so blind with Harden-hate rage that they’re no longer even able to correctly interpret even the most basic of NBA rules.

Just take one look at this Twitter thread on this admittedly funny post from NBC Sports writer Dane Carbaugh.

Dive into that one and you’ll find 82 responses of mostly anti-Beard bias, accusing him of everything from traveling on his stepback (an old, tired and already disproved argument) to actually already calling his own fouls, in reference to Carbaugh’s original tweet.

That’s just one of many, many conversations you can find on social media deriding the Rockets as a whole and Harden individually, and they seem to increase in intensity with each and every Houston win.

What is it about Harden and the Rockets that make people forget that reaching in and making contact in any way on a shooter always has been, and always will be, a foul, at every single level of basketball? That goes for whether the player is driving to the hoop or shooting a three.

You can’t reach in and hit his arm, you can’t hit his hand after the release, and you can’t take up the shooter’s landing space. These are all well-established and well-known rules. Yet for some reason, opposing defenders continue to reach in on and make contact with Harden over and over and over and over.

It’s well-known that Harden is an expert at drawing fouls — which is a bona fide basketball skill — yet he still seduces defenders into doing his bidding.

Harden’s not the first to possess this skill, nor will he be the last. Drawing contact is something players have been doing for decades. In fact, the season which Harden shot the most free throws (881 in the 2016-17 season) barely cracks the top 25 of most freebies in a single year.

His top year comes in at No. 24, behind Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Adrian Dantley, Bob Petit and others.

And he’s shooting even less this year. He’s currently on pace to shoot 750 free throws, which would tie Kevin Durant for 116th all time on the single season list.

So not only is it an unfair narrative being perpetuated here compared against the real numbers, but also according to some, Harden is the one and only all-time great who doesn’t actually earn his trips to the line. But the reality is this isn’t phantom contact we’re talking about here.

Get too close to Harden and he’ll drive right by you for a layup or the oop to Clint Capela. Play him a step too far away, and he’s gonna cash that three ball right in your grill. So what are your options? The only one left is foul. That makes The Beard unguardable.

Instead of sitting back to enjoy greatness on display right in front of their faces, there’s an entire NBA-watching population out there practically pelting their own screens with tomatoes any time Harden draws a three or four-point play.

And can we just cool it already with this nonsense that Harden’s stepback three is actually a travel? I know there’s a tendency to try to hold on to any thing you can when the false narrative that’s been set up is being smashed right in front of our eyes three or four nights per week, but the stepback has already been addressed. For anyone still unaware, 19-year NBA veteran official and former Head of Officials Ronnie Nunn dropped his knowledge on BBall Breakdown last month. Here it is in case you missed it:

So there you have it. The stepback in legal, always has been legal, always will be. Anyone still digging your fingernails in desperation, just please, give it up.

But you know what, Rockets fans, you should be pleased this happening.

The Rockets are winning, they’re beating practically everybody, and their tight defense, modest pace, and mental toughness and fortitude are knocking down every prejudice anyone out there had about this team and its superstar.

Harden’s stats are off the charts in efficiency, scoring, assists, true shooting percentage and a litany of other stats that have been discussed here (and everywhere) ad nauseam. His defense has improved drastically; he’s one of the top one-on-one defenders in the league this season. His iso and post defense haven’t just been good, they’ve been great.

With Houston cruising along at 57-14, they’re getting close to a lock for the NBA’s best record. There’s literally nothing to criticize anymore, so now we’re being bombarded with these nebulous takes about officiating and free throws, even if all the existing facts in those cases prove them to be false takes as well.

Relish in this, Red Rowdies, because this hate means the Rockets have officially arrived literally into the daily collective consciousness of your average NBA fan. You don’t do that unless you’re doing something right.

The other thing happening right now is we might be witnessing the earliest examples of postseason coach gamemanship in league history.

Earlier this month, potential playoff opponent coaches Alvin Gentry and Doc Rivers both went public with complaints about officiating immediately following their respective team’s defeat at the hands of the Rockets.

Gentry, in particular, went off the rails complaining about a four-point play late in the game, and his star Anthony Davis not getting the same treatment as James Harden. Meanwhile, the sane ones here recognize that it’s easy to see on replay that Jrue Holiday clearly hit Harden’s hand, and Davis gets more foul calls against (7.3) than other player in the league except for his teammate DeMarcus Cousins (7.8). Harden comes in at third (7.1).

Anyone think these guys aren’t shook, as they’re trying to work the refs a full month out of the postseason? Heck, Steve Kerr, coach of Houston’s biggest competition out west in the Golden State Warriors, started in on this stuff even earlier

So ignore all the bluster out there, Rockets fans. Most of the mainstream media seem to finally be recognizing what we see, and most of the talk centers around The Beard and the obvious MVP season he’s having. I don’t think it will be unanimous, but the narrative finally seems to be coming into focus, especially after the 42-point performance against Portland.

And all this other noise out there? Not only has it been proven false time and again throughout this season, but the fact that there are so many still clinging to disproved narratives shows just how shook plenty of opposing fans, trolls and Twitter haters are as well. That’s only happening because the Rockets are winning.

So make sure you’re taking the time to enjoy the greatness you’re witnessing right in front of your face. If Houston can turn this phenomenal season into a ring, the Rockets won’t just have facts on their side, they’ll have NBA history on it too.