The San Antonio Spurs are hitting their stride after winning four of five and now have a chance to land a knockout blow against the crumbling Rockets.
I’m not sure if there’s anyone more in a position to candidly write about the next chapter in the rivalry between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs than me. Before earning my position as a site expert here at Air Alamo, I spent a year in enemy territory writing for the Rockets as one of their site experts.
If you want to get an idea of how closely my life has intertwined with the San Antonio Spurs, all it takes is one click to read my emotional letter dedicated to their multiple-decade playoff streak. In it, I talk about how having the team around as I grew up helped me form friendships, get through tough family times, and more.
This dedication to the Silver and Black was a big reason I hesitated before ultimately agreeing to write for Space City Scoop for a year, a site that extensively covers the Rockets here on the FanSided network.
While it was tough thinking of positives to say about an arch-nemesis for so long, I gained valuable experience and, more importantly, a lot of intel on a Texas rival. After the jump, an analysis of what I’ve learned about the volatility of the Houston Rockets in the past year.
Next: Houston's colossal collapse
The Rockets are melting down, and the Spurs can only benefit
If this headline sounds familiar, that’s because it is. One month ago, I wrote about how the Rockets were collapsing due to the loss of their general manager, head coach, best defender, and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. On top of that, James Harden was already disgruntled while P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon weren’t happy either.
With a two-game series against the Spurs on the horizon, the Rockets are now on the brink of a total collapse. Houston has lost four of five and is coming off back-to-back blowout losses to the Los Angeles Lakers. More importantly, it seems like their franchise player, James Harden, has all but given up.
"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."
—James Harden on the Rockets pic.twitter.com/LcPLn09TgE
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2021
James Harden has been the franchise player and a perennial MVP candidate for the Rockets for eight years running, but it’s clear he’s no longer happy in H-Town. After falling short with Chris Paul, Harden coordinated the trade for Westbrook, which ended in a massive failure last season.
By Harden’s own language, it seems like he’s anxious to move onto another team in which he has more confidence. The man Houston traded Westbrook for, John Wall, also seemed to notice how Harden has already checked out after their latest loss.
“It’s only been nine games. Come on, man, you want to jump off the cliff after nine games?"
John Wall on James Harden reportedly wanting out of Houston pic.twitter.com/rmevt9SntW
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 13, 2021
It’s apparent that James Harden is as good as gone after all of this, but the biggest question is when that will happen. The NBA trade deadline is March 25th, but with a shortened season already part of the equation, the Rockets might be tempted to pull the trigger quickly in an attempt to salvage their season.
Next: The Spurs can be the final nail in the coffin
The Spurs can be the final nail in the Rockets’ coffin
In come the red-hot Spurs, who have taken two of the last three matchups with Houston, including Lonnie Walker‘s breakout performance last December. Currently, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the only team with a worse record in the Western Conference than the Rockets, with their seventh loss to Houston’s six being the difference.
At 3-6 going into the game, the Rockets could be tempted to pull the trigger on dealing Harden, even if for a lesser value than expected, if they fall to 3-8 after their trip to the Alamo City. I’m generally a believer that a back-to-back series against one team usually ends in a split. That’s why I predicted Houston would take the first game on Thursday, but that’s starting to look questionable.
Is James Harden even going to bother playing after outwardly expressing his frustration with the team? Probably. But even so, he’s clearly not playing like the MVP-caliber player he’s been for years. After averaging 33.7 points per game over the last three seasons, James hasn’t scored more than 21 points in his last five games, finishing with 16 most recently.
*Update 2:10 pm ET: Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets plan to keep Harden away until a trade is done.
In any case, despite San Antonio’s matchup problems with Christian Wood, there’s no question that they’re the better team heading into Thursday and Saturday’s games. If they can handle business as they’ve generally been doing so far, they could be the final blow in Houston’s attempt to stay alive in the West.