James Harden: Key To Houston Rocket Success Lies in Health of Harden
Entering Saturday night the Rockets hoped to extend their 4-game win streak in order to put some distance between themselves and the teams directly behind them (Dallas and San Antonio) in the ever competitive Southwest division. They had made the trip East without their star center Dwight Howard who was side-lined again by his troublesome right knee.
While All-Star reserves were named last week the pregame focus wasn’t on the All-Star snubs: Dwight Howard or selected reserves: James Harden or Rising Stars Challenge participant: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Rather the news featured invariably on all sports media in Auburn Hills was the return of Josh Smith.
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To say the Rockets were entering a hostile environment was an understatement. The Palace was abuzz early with energy as these Piston fans were awaiting their sacrificial lamb.
Josh Smith had become the scapegoat for all fans who were looking to blame every problem of the franchises woeful past several seasons on him including this season’s 5-23 start.
The rest of the first quarter and first half of the second quarter the Palace crowd continued to serenade Smith making clear their intent and confirming the solid effort being displayed by the home town Pistons was going to take second chair for the duration.
Then at 4:48 of the second quarter something happened to highlight just how precarious any team’s chances of success can be. Driving the paint James Harden went up and knocked knees with Caldwell-Pope and crumpled to the floor clutching his knee.
While he lied on the court with one hand on his knee and the other covering his face I noted all the trophies of his battle wounds on exhibit. The oft taped shoulder was on full display as was a new piece of athletic tape running from the base of his neck down his spin.
Both legs were swathed in athletic sleeves and extra tape appeared on his ankles. An event that could take them from their current third seed out West and spiral them directly downward, right out of the playoffs.
Replays showed he had banged his left knee in the collision with Caldwell-Pope. He’d already banged his right knee twice and had a contusion on it from the previous game versus Dallas. The next few moments were anxious ones as even the previously rowdy Piston arena became suddenly quieted.
There on the Palace floor lay the top MVP candidate potentially with an injury which could remove him not only from the game but if serious enough could possibly end Houston’s season with their other star Howard already out!
The litany of ailments Harden’s dealt with this season reads like a checklist for practicing sideline trainers:
• ankle turns
• shoulder strain
• sore back (back spasms)
• hamstring tightness
• knee contusion (his right knee on this night)
• knocked knees
And that’s just the one’s we know of.
Harden eventually got to his feet and gingerly left the court with a trainer. We learned during the break Harden had sustained a knee contusion and as Rocket fans have become accustomed to this season returned in the second half to lead his team toward their goal of victory. On this night his efforts fell short, but ultimately the fact he was even on the floor speaks to how much the Rockets rely on him and to the warrior he’s become.
With news today Howard will miss a month at a minimum the crown on Harden’s head becomes heavier. He’ll be forced to play through pesky wounds and bruises as he Rockets can’t afford for him not to be on the court.
So, while Houston may not have given Smith a victory on his return to the Palace he should thank his lucky stars along with all Rocket fans that Harden rose from the court and will continue to lead his team onward.