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Rockets two-game series against Lakers shows the James Harden era is near an end

The two-game mini-series against the Lakers was supposed to measure where the Houston Rockets stand as a team, not the end of the James Harden era. 

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

Five days ago, Christian Wood made his way to the post-game podium via Zoom. He had just recorded 22 points and 15 rebounds to help the Houston Rockets end a two-game skid against the Orlando Magic. During his post-game availability, Wood said he had the Rockets’ next opponent circled on his calendar. Wood appeared confident and eager to match up against Anthony Davis — his former teammate in New Orleans — with the Los Angeles Lakers coming to town.

It was an opportunity for Wood to measure himself against the league’s best big man. And an opportunity for the Rockets to measure themselves against the league’s best team. But after losing two consecutive games to the Lakers by an average margin of 17.5 points, the Rockets are nowhere near close to championship contention. And more importantly, a team that is not on the same page.

“We are just not good enough. Chemistry, talent-wise, just everything. They [Lakers] are a veteran team, a championship team, and one of the best teams that we have in this league. I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think it can be fixed. So, thanks.” — Harden

James Harden’s sayonara speech felt inevitable. It just so happen that it took place nine games into the season following the Rockets’ 117-100 loss to the Lakers.

Harden scored less than 20 points for the fourth consecutive game — his longest streak as a Rocket. He ended the night with 16 points in 31 minutes while shooting 5-for-16 from the field, 1-for-6 from behind the arc. His effort on the court has been in question since the Rockets’ six-point loss to the Pacers. While it was debatable whether he quit on the team a week ago, Harden’s effort and desire to leave Houston is no longer in dispute.

But will the Rockets finally give in and move on from arguably their second greatest player in franchise history? The answer has to be yes.

The Rockets have shown signs of promise to start the season despite their 3-6 record. Injuries and health and safety protocols have made it challenging for Houston to develop their on-court camaraderie under first-year head coach Stephen Silas. And Harden’s apparent opposition to buy-in has made things even tougher in Houston.

The longer the Rockets hold on to Harden, the more the on-going drama will hinder the team from reaching their potential.

“There is still a lot of basketball to be played. We can’t dwell down on it because it’s only been nine games. There are going to be things that happen that will set us off a little bit. But when you have certain guys in the mix who don’t want to buy in all as one. It’s going to be hard to do anything special, to do anything good as a basketball team.” — Wall

Houston looked out of sync since the opening tip. And as the game wore on, the Rockets’ appalling effort left fans scratching their head and saying, “This cannot get any worse.”

The lowest moment in Tuesday’s blowout took place midway through the second quarter. With the Lakers up 45-24, LeBron James drilled a no-look corner three over the top of Ben McLemore. After the shot, James celebrated with his teammates during the change of possession. However, the celebration was not for extending the Lakers’ lead to 24. But to celebrate his in-game $100 bet with Dennis Schroder.

Houston’s next humiliating moment took place late in the third quarter. Sterling Brown stripped James and attempted to dunk on Davis in transition. The play did not end well for Brown as Davis recorded one of his five blocks in the process. Davis’ rejection on Brown beats Montrezl Harrell’s reverse put-back dunk, and narrowly surpasses John Wall’s botched layup as the Rockets’ second-most embarrassing moment of the night.

“Obviously, these two games were not good at all, and we have to learn from them. It doesn’t feel good. They are a together group, and they are having fun at our expense. We should take umbrage because they were dancing on our homecourt. We just have to fight through it.” — Silas

When Harden first made his trade request, the Rockets said they were willing to get uncomfortable in an attempt to hold on to their star player. Missing nearly all of Rockets’ training camp to celebrate Lil’ Baby’s birthday deemed to be the most awkward situation. But now, his lackadaisical efforts are plunging the Rockets towards the bottom of the league.

The Rockets are now back to the team they were five days ago before Wood made his comment about Davis. A team riding a two-game losing streak left searching for answers. And a disgruntled star who has shut the door of recanting his trade demand out of town.

“Come on man, you want to jump off a cliff after nine games? It’s a lot of basketball still to be played.” — Wall