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What’s wrong with James Harden? Rockets fall to Blazers 125-112

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Rockets drop another game in which Harden looks hurt.

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers
Two players heading in different directions at the moment.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In game news, the Rockets dropped a road game to the Portland Trailblazers by the score of 125 to 112. Damien Lillard continues his insane hot streak, routinely draining 3pt shots from near half court. CJ McCollum continues to be one of the best terrible shot makers in the NBA. And, of course, Hassan Whiteside had a dominant night because Mike D’Antoni refused to play a center after it became clear Clint Capela could neither move easily, nor jump.

The Utah Jazz are a good matchup team for the Rockets super-smallball lineup. The Portland Trailblazers are...not. Whiteside could just hang around the basket, block shots, rebound, and score easy baskets. The same happened with Carmelo Anthony, in a bit of turnabout, when he played center against the super small Rockets lineup. Whiteside went for 15pts on 6-9 shooting, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. Anthony shot poorly, but grabbed 13 boards and dished five assists.

Damien Lillard is on a crazy hot streak right now. Tonight he notched 36pts on 6-12 from three, or four, point range, to go with 11 boards and 10 assists. Those are the sort of numbers Rockets fans are accustomed to seeing from James Harden.

James Harden isn’t right. Tonight he scored 18pts on 5-18 shooting. He also recorded 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks, to go along with 6 turnovers, most of which were frankly, terrible. Harden looked like a player moving through mud. He was slow to everything tonight, couldn’t finish in the lane, and couldn’t make his shots. Something appears to be wrong with him, health, or otherwise. Him logging 38 minutes with that sort of performance isn’t helping him, or the team.

The Rockets managed to score 112 with Harden being mostly terrible. Russell Westbrook is a dynamo, and has embraced the Rockets way. 39pts on 16-29 shooting, 10 rebounds, 6 assists. He took a few bad shots, but Westbrook isn’t the problem. Once again, if you told me Westbrook logged that sort of night at the beginning of the season I’d have assumed the Rockets won easily.

This is a familiar story right now. The Rockets can’t seem to get great performances from both their stars. Their starting center isn’t healthy, and in his absence Mike D’Antoni has chosen to play no center at all, despite seeing good performances when Hartenstein was given an opportunity. They have no true power forward to impersonate a center, so PJ Tucker or Danuel House is left to contend with 7ft tall+ players. Tucker seems to be wearing down from it, as his shooting is way off.

Lineups without Harden, but with Westbrook, despite being undersized, managed to get some motion going, to generate some open shots that lead to an illusory comeback. A comeback that largely stalled when Harden slowed down the ball, and the offense. Harden of course is the Rockets meal ticket, but the wiser course might be to let him rest and get over whatever ails him. He’s not pushing the team towards wins right now anyhow.

Portland played well, and Houston did not. That’s the story of the night.

The story of the season is that the Rockets rarely adapt and almost never surprise opponents. Without a dominant James Harden to paper over that approach, they tend to lose a lot of games.

We’ll see if health has visited Capela and Harden on Friday, as a brutal stretch of games continues at what appears to be the worst time for the Rockets.

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