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Houston Rockets: Suspension and No Call Cost Rockets Division Lead

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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In a cruel twist of fate the Houston Rockets got the short end of the stick not once but twice last week. First, following their thrilling over time win versus Cleveland on March 1, LeBron James complained post game about the kick that he embellished with a flop saying: “I’m sure the league will review the kick. That’s not a basketball play.”

Sure enough the next day the league announced James Harden had received a one game suspension without pay amounting to $179,620.00! That’s a pretty big chunk of change all because the King wanted further action taken. Feels more like sour grapes than an actual concern that Harden was trying to hurt him. As I touched on last week it’s interesting how much pull James has with the league given Alex Len and Hassan Whiteside got into about as close to a brawl as we see in the NBA. Len grabbed Whiteside aggressively and Whiteside tackled and threw Len to the ground, yet this was not deemed worthy of a suspension. The fact Harden did get suspended certainly feels like it only happened because James complained and basically said the League would review it.

Harden suspension likely costs Rockets game vs. Hawks:

Making maters worse was the the timing of the incident because it meant Harden would miss the game versus the East’s top seeded Atlanta Hawks. This first game of last week came close to being a win as the Rockets led by 14 points at the half and by 9 after three quarters. It wasn’t until 4:24 of the fourth quarter that Atlanta finally took the lead and held on for the win.  It’s hard not to believe the Rockets would have won that game had Harden been allowed to play. Credit LeBron James for his call out for the League to examine the kick as the reason Houston lost this game.

Not to beat a dead horse, but looking back at that Cavalier game I note James himself was equally (if not more aggressive) with his play to push Patrick Beverley back down to the ground. Then while the play is being reviewed he chooses to walk by Beverley and brush against him in an intimidatory move. The actual “kick” play showcased James pushing Harden to the ground without any penalty and several plays in a row prior to that set had James fouling Harden repeatedly without any fouls called.

Perhaps the most aggressive play of the day occurred when Tristan Thompson pushes Harden mid air in the chest sending him hard to the court. A foul was called, but given how James complained about the kick it’s hard not to imagine James would’ve been looking for the League to elicit a suspension had that occurred to him instead of Harden. In fact, that play was extremely dangerous as it could have resulted in a serious injury to Harden.

If you think I’m being overly dramatic take note of the game Cleveland played versus the Raptors. Center Jonas Valanciunas gave James a hard foul which sent him to the ground. The play resulted in a flagrant call, however the truth is it was just a hard foul and James’ forward motion was more responsible for him ending up on the ground. Of note, James took a bit of a swing at Valanciunas when he offered to help him up which of course received no call.  Post game James’ coach David Blatt complained about how James is getting fouled too hard, too often. It’s annoying that these type of comments are coming out given James creates this problem because he is the one who show boats in opposing arenas when he throws down a dunk. In the same game he was dancing on the court as if to let the Toronto faithful know how much of a joke he felt the Cav’s big lead was (notably Toronto  actually came back in the game and took the lead prior to Cleveland gutting out a late win).

My point is are teams suppose to just move out of the way of LeBron? His size and speed is what makes him difficult to stop but Blatt saying LeBron is receiving too many hard fouls is ridiculous. This highlights twice that players received flagrant calls in a couple of days for fouling James and yet the foul by Thompson was much more violent and he never attempted to make a play for the ball which is the actual reason for a flagrant to be called. You tell me… review the foul by Valanciunas on LeBron James above and then look at the foul by Thompson on Harden below. It’s obvious which one is the harder foul and which one was intended to purposely send the player to the ground!

Top players like Harden and Westbrook get fouled every game that hard, so why should James who is much bigger than both be getting this special treatment. Anyway, something to mull over.

A non-call costs Rockets game versus Memphis:

With Harden chomping at the bit to get back on the court, he had very little time to wait as the Rockets had two back to back series last week. Therefore he was suited up for a pivotal inter division match Wednesday at the Toyota Center. Like Houston, Memphis entered on the second night of their own back to back series following a loss to Utah. Making this game even more critical was the Grizzlies sat in front of Houston atop the Southwest Division, second overall in the West and were trailing the season series 2 games to 1 to Houston.  Therefore this game marked an important opportunity for the Rockets to close these gaps and most significantly lay claim to the season series. The relevance of a win would be if the two teams ended the season tied Houston would own the tie-breaker.

Like the previous night the Rockets jumped out to an early lead of 7 points after one quarter and led by 5 points at the half. Memphis battled back to tie the game by the end of the third quarter. The final frame played out with playoff intensity as each team traded the lead back and forth, but with just :27 seconds remaining and the score tied at 100 Harden had the ball.  Courtney Lee closely guarded him as Harden ran the clock down waiting to make his patented move to the bucket. What happened next was beyond comprehension as Zach Randolph committed an overt foul slapping Harden’s arm forcing him to lose the ball.  Yet in a highly controversial move the referee’s chose to not make a call allowing Memphis’ Marc Gasol to score with no time remaining to seal a Grizzlies win.

In review, all three officials were in good position to see the foul that should have resulted in free throws. It had already been an odd evening in that regard as Harden had been granted only 2 free throws (he leads the league in attempts and makes per game).

However the relevance of this missed call is far reaching. By weeks end Memphis had lost 2 of their 4 games having only beat the Lakers and Houston  on this controversial no call. At a minimum it’s likely Harden would have forced the Grizzlies to tie the game and go to overtime. The day after, the League admitted to their error, which does nothing to help Houston’s cause. What makes the no call even more contentious is the Rockets went on to win their next two games versus Detroit and Denver. To put this in perspective Houston begin this week 1.5 games back of Memphis, so that no call cost them a full game in the standings and ties the teams on the season series. We can argue the “kick” and merits of the suspension, but the suspension and no call came with a very expensive cost as the Rockets could have essentially traded places with Memphis if these two situations don’t occur!

Games this week:

There is no time to focus on these unfortunate circumstances though, so the Rockets must put this disappointment behind them and forge ahead. This week features just 3 games, however once again they’ll play  on a back to back:

  • Wednesday they’ll face the team directly behind them in the West on the road. Portland had their own tough week losing arguably their most consistent player Wes Matthews to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Matthews is the heart and soul of the Blazers and one would think their squad has to be reeling given they look poised for a strong showing this post season having added depth in Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee at the deadline. Now Afflalo will replace Matthews as a starter and the Blazers will once again be in their reserve depth.
  • Thursday they’ll travel to face a young team who have found their identity since the All-Star break in the Jazz. With Utah moving Kanter at the deadline to OKC, Rudy Gobert has been appointed the Jazz center of the future and is reveling in the role. Utah is 7-3 in their past ten games and have become a defensive force. They rank behind the Suns in the West and are bent on playing spoiler and building momentum to carry through to next season when it’s possible they’ll join several teams vying for the 8th seed.
  • The Rockets will close out the week versus the Clippers who as of this posting were still without Blake Griffin however Rotoworld is saying he may return Sunday just in time to face the Rockets. However, the Clippers won’t have Jamal Crawford who is out with a calf injury and Chris Paul is still playing, but is hampered by a bruised knee.

Injury Update:

As per Rotoworld Dwight Howard has progressed to running, cutting and performing 2 on 2 work. Further they reported Howard said the knee feels the more explosive than it’s been all season. Monday we saw the vine footage below of him working out and he does look closer to a return than not.

Each day is another day closer. @DwightHoward going through drills after practice in Portland. https://t.co/T3gb3SE9ya

— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 9, 2015

It would be fair to expect at least two wins this week especially with so much time off to prepare for Portland. Let’s see if Harden can continue to lead these Rockets and let’s hope they get another opportunity to usurp Memphis without foul play messing with them this time.

Next: Who is the Rockets defensive anchor?

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