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Houston Rockets: Can They Man Up?

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The Golden State Effect:

On January 21st, 2015 the Houston Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors, who swept the four game season series first time since the 1973-74 season; The Rockets lost all four contests by double digits. Houston proved to be cerebrally fragile and unable to gut-out a victory against the team with the best record in the Western conference.

In the last game of the season series versus Golden State, the Rockets appeared to have already lost the game mentally before the jump ball toss. Andrew Bogut was able to bottle-up Dwight Howard, and on one offensive series, Bogut blocked Howard’s shot twice. This frustrated Howard to resort to bush league antics, by slapping Bogut’s hands and forearms. Howard’s chippie play eventually got him a technical foul and seat on the bench.

The rap against Howard has always been his mental toughness; Kobe Bryant has called Howard “soft”. Dwight is one of the most physically imposing players in the NBA. He is very disciplined when it comes to his diet and fitness. Nonetheless, he’s been accused of quitting on his team when times get tough. That is the vilest label in sports, to be accused as a quitter.  It is totally unacceptable to allow yourself to be taken out of the game, whether from personal or technical fouls. As the leader of the franchise you fight to the end.

“They bullied us tonight, they smacked us four times.”

That night in Oakland the rest of the Rockets appeared to follow Dwight’s lead by focusing more on the frolics, than persevering through a team that was willing to fight and was more prepared to win.

In that game, Patrick Beverley was bordering on dirty play all night, with constant grabbing and pulling, while attempting to guard Stephen Curry. In the 3rd quarter, Trevor Ariza intentionally bumped Curry going down court, which led to a technical foul on Ariza following an Official’s video review.Josh Smith received two technical fouls for arguing with the Officials, resulting in his disqualification. The Rockets completely unraveled that night and mentally quit.
James Harden said after the game, “They bullied us tonight, they smacked us four times.”

After being bullied, one must make a decision to man-up or get used to being bullied. To man-up in terms of competitive basketball, it means to accept and overcome fears – fear of the unknown, being injured, being embarrassed, not meeting expectations, and most of all – the fear of failing.

The Houston Rockets have gone 13 – 6 since the 126 – 113 lost to Golden State on January 21st. They won’t have another opportunity to play them again, unless they meet in the playoffs.

One advantage to not having Howard in the line-up is the Rockets have taken on the identity of their MVP candidate James Harden. The Rockets have mutated from Dwight Howards anemic persona to the always ready and willing to Man up, identity of James Harden.

MVP Past versus MVP future:

No example could be better than when the Rockets played LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 105 – 103 overtime victory

by Houston was overshadowed by the skirmishes that took place during the 3rd quarter. LeBron James and Patrick Beverley got into shoving match after Beverley attempted to take a charge in the lane. James fell on top of Beverley, but used his left hand to keep Beverley pinned to the floor. The two were separated, however James bumped Beverley as he was walking back to Cleveland’s bench. This led to a double technical foul called on both Beverley and James.

Beverley took exception and challenged the Cavaliers with good aggressive play offensively. With the next four Rockets possessions, he hit a jump shot in the lane, got foul driving to the basket, assisted on a Donatas Motiejunas’ lay-up and finally hit a 3-point shot.

After an aggressive trap on Harden, by LeBron and Tristan Thompson which caused Harden to fall to the floor. Harden kicked LeBron to get James off of him.
Corey Brewer and Cleveland’s Thompson received technical fouls for continuing to argue after the incident.

Harden received a flagrant foul during the game and a one game suspension for kicking James. But more importantly, that kick showed that the Rockets would retaliate to rough play by manning up with aggressive play and would no longer back down to a challenge.

The Rockets showed a lot of heart playing against the team with the best record in the Eastern conference, the Atlanta Hawks. They were without Harden who faced the one game suspension and Howard due to injury. The Rockets manned up and competed for most of the game, but didn’t have enough to pullout the win.

Dwight Howard, while rehabbing from injury, watched from the bench as the once immature Rockets have matured to a mentally strong unit during his departure.

Will Howard follow suit and man up upon his return or will he continue to prove his critics right? Either way, the team has figured it out with or without him.

Next: Who is the Rocket defensive anchor?

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