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Upcoming Rockets vs. Lakers game is a season crossroads

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Premier matchup, primetime TV, what’s not to love?

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets appear to be arriving at a season crossroads. Despite the up-and-down fan confidence, it’s been mostly a solid season for the Rockets to this point. They’re currently on pace to win the same amount of games as last year (53), and that’s only after a recent two-game losing streak, which is actually the team’s first losing streak since November.

But in these most recent losses, almost all the blemishes we were afraid were major issues seemed to have blossomed into such.

James Harden has been mostly mortal and the Rockets didn’t win. Whether that’s just due to a mid-season lull or something more insidious, like wearing down slightly at age 30 after carrying so much load for so long, The Beard hasn’t looked right this week. And when The Beard hasn’t been right, the other Rockets simply haven’t been good enough.

Russell Westbrook continues to sit out back-to-backs, though he might have made a difference against Memphis, and even though he was 11-22 from the field for 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists against the Portland Trail Blazers, everyone else was mostly just ordinary.

The team continues to find trouble filling the small forward slot with the appropriate amount of both size/defense and effective shooting, and now that Danuel House is back to looking every bit a G-Leaguer, it’s essentially been forward by platoon.

Mike D’Antoni continues to make odd rotation decisions, like watching Isaiah Hartenstein go off for 17 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a win against Minnesota, then playing him a combined 5 total minutes (yes, 5) over the next two contests, both losses.

The rotations aren’t long enough, the bench isn’t deep enough, and every fear we’ve had an inkling on so far this year seems to be coming true right before our eyes over these last two games, as the Rockets have slipped to the fifth seed in the West after being as high as second not long ago.

But there’s a chance to change that coming on Saturday night.

The Rockets are taking on the Western Conference leading 33-8 Los Angeles Lakers on the Toyota Center floor, and if ever there was a gauge as how good these Rockets really can be this season, this is the game.

The Rockets have a habit of playing to their competition, often beating good teams (Philly, Denver, Clippers, Toronto) and losing to bad ones (Golden State, Detroit, New Orleans, Portland), so if that’s any indication, the team is certain to be up for it. Don’t expect a flat performance, especially at home, where the Rockets are 14-5 on the year.

But this is one of those games that can define a season. Take down The Lake Show, and that gives not just the team confidence, but a significant boost to a currently hesitant fan base. That two-game losing streak becomes likely just a small blip on the season-long radar.

A loss, however, could start off a chain reaction. Following the Lakers, the Rockets take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets twice, Utah Jazz, Mavericks, the same Blazers that just beat them. Not a good time to be on a skid.

Yes, this is a crossroads game for our beloved heroes in red, but something tells me they might be out with something to prove, especially with a return to national TV (ABC) after the Christmas Day debacle.

The players held a meeting after last night’s loss, so they know they need to step it up.

I’m certain we’re going to see a fired-up, aggressive Russ, and if ever there was a game with Beard bounce-back written all over it, this is it. LeBron James will be there, though Anthony Davis is likely out. But Harden and Russ are big moments kind of guys. What’s bigger than battling the Lakers on Saturday primetime on national TV?

And the best part about it? Still time to be there in person. Head on over to Stubhub from our TDS link to purchase your tickets.

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