A few days ago, things weren’t going great for the Houston Rockets, but they were going probably as well as they are ever going to this season. The team had just beaten the Orlando Magic by 32 points to pull their record to 3-4, and the next day, James Harden — who, in case you missed it, has been going through a very public and embarassing trade demand saga this season — at the very least admitted that there were positive aspects about these Rockets, and at best acknowledged the possibility of a future in Houston.
James Harden: "We got a lot of work to do. I think every team feels that way...We just haven't had the opportunity to work together very often. As long as we continue to find chemistry, to find pace on both ends of the floor, we got a chance to do something special." #Rockets— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) January 9, 2021
Even after losing their next game to the Lakers, things weren’t looking too bad. The team was still close to .500, and on the day in-between games, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the front office was “growing more confident that Harden will be content to stick around at least through the rest of the season,” even if he also wrote that “sources say Harden still prefers to be dealt.”
Then... Well, then the Lakers happened. Or more accurately, the Lakers at the full peak of their powers happened. The Rockets never once held a lead on Tuesday, and the Lakers pushed the deficit to as much as 30 at one point in a game that was realistically over by halftime. Los Angeles essentially spent 48 minutes clowning the team they just gentlemen’s swept out of the playoffs.
After the game, Harden wasn’t talking about “a chance to do something special” anymore.
James Harden: "I love this city. I've literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. I don't think it can be fixed. Thanks."— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) January 13, 2021
He left the podium.
"I love this city. I've literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed. Thanks."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2021
—James Harden on the Rockets pic.twitter.com/LcPLn09TgE
So, to recap, the Lakers have won their last six games against the Rockets, including four straight in the playoffs, and now — after beating a Houston team people actually thought had a shot against them so badly in the postseason that Harden quit on the organization where he won his only MVP award and has spent the majority of his career — they so thoroughly stomped them in two regular season games that Harden went from saying positive things to walking out on press conferences while his teammates take shots at him in the media.
I asked John Wall how he would assess his partnership on the court with James Harden through 9 games:— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) January 13, 2021
"I think it's been a little rocky, can't lie about that. I don't think it's been the best it could be, to be honest. That's all I really could say." #Rockets
John Wall: "Like I told everybody tonight, when the 1-15 guys are all on the same page and they commit...you all will be fine. But when you have certain guys in the mix that don't want to buy in as one, it's gonna be hard to do anything special as a basketball team...It hurts."— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) January 13, 2021
John Wall: "If we can all get on the same page, we can be something good here. We can't dwell down on it because it's only been 9 games. Come on, man. You're going to jump off the cliff off of 9 games? There's a lot of basketball still to be played." #Rockets— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) January 13, 2021
So in case you were wondering how exhausting it is to play against a Lakers team with locked in versions of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it appears we have empirical evidence that the answer is “exhausting enough to make a team implode twice” or “demoralizing enough to make you go from cautious optimism to re-ignited tire fire.”
I mean, good for the Lakers, but for Houston, it meant it was time to admit they officially have a problem. The Lakers beat them so bad they realized they needed to trade Harden ASAP by the next morning.
The Rockets are sifting through finalists — Nets and 76ers — for a James Harden deal that could culminate quickly, with Brooklyn preparing an offer of all its future first-round picks and pick swaps, per sources.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 13, 2021
Story on @TheAthletic with @sam_amick: https://t.co/tTYIRVG8Xg
So yeah, the Lakers are the clear title favorites when they're engaged.