I find it intriguing how personally people take individual accolades for their favorite professional sports players. I don't find it insulting nor offensive, mind you. Just intriguing, intriguing that people (with jobs and families) would take individual awards for someone other than themselves so seriously, that they would let it legitimately effect their moods.
We saw it with J.J. Watt and the MVP Award in the NFL. There were Texans fans who seemed like they were ready to storm the NFL Honors award night and take hostages if Aaron Rodgers won the award. (Thankfully, there was no visible Watt-fueled demonstration at the awards show after Rodgers won.)
And we saw it with James Harden and the NBA All Star Game, with constant reminders from fans and people within the Rockets on Twitter to continually pepper social media with Harden's name and the hashtag "#NBABallot" to get him a starting berth in the NBA's version of the "midseason classic."
Well, it took Kobe Bryant's body falling apart, but the tireless efforts on social media paid off (I suppose) as Harden was named as a replacement starter for this Sunday's game by Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr.
I say that it took Bryant's body falling apart, but in actuality, for whom Harden is starting is unclear and not entirely relevant anyway, but it is interesting. When Bryant's season ended with a rotator cuff injury (and with Golden State's Steph Curry embedded at the other guard spot), logic dictated that Harden would get bumped up from reserve to starter in the game because a) he was next in line in the Western Conference backcourt voting and b) he might be the MVP of the league (i.e., he deserved to start).
However, with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being named head coach of the team and his own player, sharpshooter Klay Thompson, also somewhat defensible as a starting selection, there was concern among Rockets fans that Harden might get bypassed again when it came time to name a replacement. (And honestly, as I type this, I can't believe there are people who lose sleep over stuff like this.)
Alas, Blake Griffin's staph infection on his elbow (NOTE: GROSS!) opened the door to a solution that will keep everybody happy. With both Bryant and Griffin out of the starting lineup with their injuries, Kerr concocted the optimal solution -- Harden and Thompson have both been inserted into a three-guard Western Conference starting lineup.
Crisis averted! Breathe everybody....
(Honestly, it's at this point where sometimes I just want to say, "Okay, now what?" Months of hand-wringing over Harden being a starter are over, the deluge of "#NBABallot" tweets have subsided. So do people who truly care about Harden's starting or coming off the bench celebrate? Do they smoke a cigar? Talk trash? Brag to their friends? Cry? Again, as I said at the outset, I'm just intrigued, not angry.)
So I say this now, not to rain on the collective parade of everyone who spent those tireless hours at their keyboards and on Twitter trying to get Harden into the starting lineup, but instead as a point of practicality for, y'know, the reason why they actually play NBA games (winning an NBA title) -- I hope on Sunday that Harden gets introduced, takes a couple of shots and then after about five minutes, sits on the bench the rest of the night.
James Harden needs the rest. LOTS AND LOTS of rest.
If you stayed up late last night to watch the Rockets play the Clippers, a 110-95 loss in which Houston somehow managed to still be within a bucket or two early in the fourth quarter despite shooting 9-45 (20 percent) from three point range, you saw a James Harden that looked like he needed to sleep for about three straight days, preferably on a table where he is getting a deep tissue massage.
Harden looked exhausted, mentally and physically. He was deferring to his teammates for most of the night, hardly ever attacking the basket, and spending entire offensive possessions passively watching (sometimes hunched over and clutching his shorts). Harden finished the night with his worst game of the season, scoring just nine points on 3-12 shooting and missing all seven of his three point shots.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Harden was so spent last night. There are several possible reasons.
It was the back end of a back-to-back on a night after he nearly posted a triple double and did all the heavy lifting in a win over Phoenix. He did have to spend the entire night chasing J.J. Redick around the floor as the Clippers two guard looked for open spots to launch jumpers. Hey, let's face it, it was L.A., Harden's hometown and a place where he's looked, um, tired during road games there before. Just sayin'.
Chances are it was a combination of all those things PLUS the burden of carrying a team on which he's the sole creator of offense. With Dwight Howard out, there is no Klay Thompson right now that Harden can count on to relieve the burden the way Curry can on Golden State. (Hell, there's not even an Andrew Bogut or a David Lee for Harden to count on right about now.)
With Dwight Howard out for the next month after the All Star break, and the 15 games in that month including several against teams in the Western Conference mosh pit the Rockets find themselves in, it's imperative that Harden be ready, physically and mentally, to put up a lot more of the 40-12-9 type lines that he did against Phoenix on Tuesday night.
And the mental and physical prep begins with rest. Lots of rest over the next ten days.
So, Steve Kerr, I turn to you.....
I realize that we begged and pleaded and some even probably threatened you if you didn't insert Harden into the starting lineup this Sunday night. You acquiesced, and for that, Houston thanks you.
Now we implore you that once the starting lineups have been announced, please take James Harden out of the game as quickly as possible and let him rest the remainder of the night. We really, really need him at full strength these next few weeks.
And our apologies for Houston being so high-maintenance. We're all still a little butthurt over the "J.J. Watt-MVP" thing. Forgive us.
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