The Houston Rockets couldn’t do Russell Westbrook any favors in his return back to the city that birthed his NBA career. Here are some takeaways from Houston’s 113-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Russell Westbrook’s return to Oklahoma City was actually very special and heartwarming to watch. In fact, I got chills when he executed his pre-game ritual of pumping up the crowd.
Honestly, how many guys do you know could control their former home crowd like that? Not many.
Westbrook had a good game too: 34 points and five assists on 54% shooting from the field, 5-6 from the free-throw line. Sure, he did have seven turnovers, but two of them were questionable offensive foul calls and some were from him just trying to force too much when they were down big in the game.
You can even go so far as to say that he had a good homecoming, but it was just spoiled by the rest of his team. It’s like when you go to your high school reunion and decide to invite some friends along because you don’t want to go alone. You were the prom king, and no one had anything bad to say about you — actually, they loved you. Still, you maybe had a little too much to drink, spilled a drink or two, possibly on someone, but it happens. But on the side is your group of friends just absolutely taking advantage of the open bar. They fall over on some tables, stand on some chairs, dance wildy, and your new business partner that you went off to do great things with goes 5-17 from the floor in only 26 minutes.
Yeah, it’s going to look a lot worse than it should. Even then, you still get love from everyone as you’re walking out, because you’re the man there, and you always will be.
All love after the final buzzer.— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) January 10, 2020
Westbrook shares hugs with former teammates and seeks out Clay Bennett courtside. pic.twitter.com/ogmwts3uP2
Rest Wasn’t Kind to Harden
In the 11 games before the Rockets’ incredible four days of rest, James Harden averaged 39.3 points, 7.7 assists, and 5.8 rebounds on 52.7% shooting from the floor, 49.6% from three. When the team returned to play against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, it appeared that nothing had changed for him after a 22-point, 6-9 shooting first quarter.
Since the first quarter of the Hawks game, Harden has been an abysmal 8-of-42 from the field, 3-24 from three. I’ll let you do the math because I’m honestly not interested in piling on.
The most prolific scorer of this generation went out there against the Thunder for all of 26 minutes just to put up 17 points. Unfortunately, there’s not really much you can do or say that explains why he’s been cold the past two games — it just happens. Harden simply could have been gassed after having to do way too much to keep his team in it against the lowly Hawks.
The biggest takeaway from this is that the Harden slander is alive and well again, and that’s expected, of course. But can you at least give the man love when he’s doing incredible things? Well, probably not, since that’s actually more often than not.
The Lack of Rotation is STILL Baffling
The Rockets have been dealing with issues of workload, management and a seven-man rotation, so this isn’t anything new. Not having one of your premier scorers and play-makers on the floor in Eric Gordon has really taken a toll on Houston.
But it simply doesn’t change the fact that the Rockets are still terrible at managing minutes. It also becomes so much more apparent when you’re struggling to rotate guys in the second night of a back-to-back after your best player had to play 40 minutes to beat the eight-win Hawks.
In a game where the Rockets were down 17 points after one quarter, James Harden plays 26 minutes, Clint Capela plays 28 minutes, and Danuel House Jr. plays only 28 minutes, somehow Isaiah Hartenstein sees only 12 minutes of play in the final act of a blowout, and Chris Clemons gets only 11 minutes — Clemons still had 14 points on 5-9 shooting.
On top of that, Gary Clark Jr. was waived only two days ago, and Hartenstein’s was fully guaranteed. You know who could have helped out on the wing against all those penetrating guards or closed down the paint? Clark — the guy you just waived. You know who could have played meaningful minutes and possibly made a difference? How about the guy who was just fully guaranteed?
The Rockets still have one ace in the hole with Eric Gordon, but with his nagging injuries, there’s still a lot of work to be done to avoid having a ridiculous workload for another half of the season.
This isn’t the Game to Make Your Comparisons
This has probably been the worst Rockets game this season to get on social media afterward.
There are plenty of takes of Westbrook having been the bad choice, Chris Paul showing up Houston, etc. etc. Look, Chris Paul did have a good game, but so did Dennis Schroder; so did Shai Gilgeous-Alexander; so did Danilo Gallinari — you get the picture. Paul puts out 18 points on 7-14 shooting and you’re willing to say that his contract is better than Westbrook’s? Westbrook led all scorers with 34 points.
It’s true that Paul looks better this year than last year, but what he’s done is simply tighten up his game and make adjustments so that he’s more efficient on a lower output than his career averages. He’s also doing it with a heavy guard rotation this year. Paul would not have been successful in Houston this season. Westbrook, on the other hand, is only 31 and putting out all-star numbers.
Houston is also still only one game back of the second seed and has a 25-12 record.
Fans and media are having a complete meltdown with this game, but Houston was the first matchup this season. Harden played only 26 minutes and had 17 points. Eric Gordon wasn’t out on the floor. It was the second night of a back-to-back and guys were gassed.
It’s hard to make any kind of comparisons or indications of this season off this game alone, and you shouldn’t. The only thing worth mentioning is that this team isn’t getting guys their minutes, and it absolutely showed out there.