The dumpster fire that is the Houston Rockets now engulfing other teams

James Harden breaks protocol and half the team go down due to COVID-19 exposure. The Rockets and Thunder's first game gets postponed as a result.

Good morning. Let’s basketball.

Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, J.M.W. Turner

To recap, here’s what has happened to the Houston Rockets since they were eliminated from the 2020 playoffs on September 12:

  • Their head coach Mike D’Antoni walks away

  • Their general manager Daryl Morey quits to “try something new”

  • Their point guard Russell Westbrook indicates he wanted a fresh start somewhere else

  • Morey signs to run the Sixers within two weeks of leaving the Rockets

  • The world learns that Danuel House, who got caught sneaking a testing staffer into his hotel room in the bubble and missed playoff games as a result, had tried to pin the tryst on beloved vet Tyson Chandler to escape trouble

  • Rumors that James Harden wanted out begin circulating

  • The team hires first-time head coach Stephen Silas

  • Westbrook gets traded for John Wall

  • P.J. Tucker continues to express frustration to reporters about his contract

  • Harden’s desire to go to Brooklyn or Philadelphia becomes known

  • Harden no-shows for the first week of training camp

  • Social media posts indicate Harden is instead at Lil Baby’s birthday party in Atlanta and a club in Vegas while his teammates are practicing

  • After a mini-standoff, Harden reports to camp as the rumors about possible destinations continue to swirl

This is where we stood Wednesday morning, the day of the Rockets’ scheduled season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since then, we have learned:

I mean, what do you even say? It’s hard to blame individual Rockets for contracting COVID-19 given how horrendous the outbreak is in the United States right now. That said, according to Henry Abbott one of the reasons for Russell Westbrook’s trade request is that when he reported to the Rockets in June after taking all COVID-19 precautions at his home base in L.A., he found the team’s protocols and efforts to keep people healthy lacking … and then he almost immediately got COVID-19.

The Rockets have been a total mess for a year and a half, since Harden pushed the team to trade Chris Paul. The last months have ratcheted up the crazy even more. The past 24 hours are just icing. An icing of pure jet fuel lit on fire by James Harden and stoked by a global pandemic.

We’ve reached the stage where there can be absolutely nothing that surprises you that comes out of the Rockets. I wish the sick players and (in all likelihood) staff well, and I hope we get to watch this team at some point in December.

A discussion for another day: the NBA’s enforcement of COVID-19 protocols appears to be completely toothless. Harden not missing a game check at minimum for going to a party at the end of preseason after missing the first week of camp unexcused … if this is not an opportunity for Adam Silver to show the league and world the NBA is serious about minimizing COVID-19 spread to the extent possible by punishing obvious violations, then when? It’s inexcusable.

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Scores

We’re going LONG on highlights today. We haven’t had a day with this many games since last March.

Hornets 114, Cavaliers 121 — Terry Rozier starting off the League Pass Cup season with a bang (42 points, 10-16 from three, sheesh!) but the Sexland backcourt went off (27 for Collin Sexton, 22 for Darius Garland) and the rest of the Hornets, outside of Rozier and Gordon Hayward (4-8 from three), shot 2-20 from downtown. But hey, Terry Rozier, welcome back!

Knicks 107, Pacers 121 — Domantas Sabonis is in All-Star form on opening night (32 on 11-18 shooting with 13 rebounds and 5 assists); R.J. Barrett put up great numbers (26 on 11-15, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover). Good sign on both counts.

Heat 107, Magic 113 — Pat Riley lobbying the league office that the Houston outbreak requires the season be moved into a bubble immediately.

Wizards 107, Sixers 113 — Triple-double from Russell Westbrook in his first game as a Wizard, Brad Beal put up 31, Washington led almost the entire second half. But Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were really dominant in the fourth quarter — good signs. Watching Simmons play is a real joy.

Something you might just attribute to the Sixers’ defensive style but that also might be a concern given how little other creation Washington has: Beal and Westbrook had 12 turnovers. Another number for you: Danny Green was a -27 in 18 minutes. The Sixers were +33 in the 30 minutes he was on the bench!

Bucks 121, Celtics 122 — Woooooooweee what a game. The C’s led by 17 to start the fourth, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton (both playing the entire period) rallied the Bucks back to take one-point lead with the shot clock off. Giannis guarding Jayson Tatum in isolation, locks him up and forcing him into a tough three and …

THE BANK STAYS OPEN WELL PAST NORMAL BUSINESS HOURS FOR JAYSON TATUM.

With 0.4 seconds left, the referees called a truly awful foul on Tristan Thompson off a lob attempt to Giannis, sending the two-time reigning MVP to the line with a chance to tie. He made the first and …

Ouch. Really tough final two possessions after a heroic performance to bring the Bucks to the cusp of victory. I will take a playoff series between these teams, thank you.

Pelicans 113, Raptors 99 — Shooting troubles in Tampa for the Raptors and a spectacular performance from Brandon Ingram: 24 points on 10-19 (3-6) shooting, 11 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, a block, 3 turnovers.

Another good sign: Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe each went 4-8 from deep. With neither Zion Williamson or Steven Adams spacing the floor, those two being threats is crucial to keeping the lane open for Ingram and Zion (and each other).

Hawks 124, Bulls 104 — oh thank god atlanta looks good I have never been so afraid of picking a really awful team to improve a lot in one offseason

Trae Young: 37 points on 10-12 (5-6) shooting, 14 free throw attempts, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 turnovers in just 26 minutes (because it was a blowout). If you don’t watch the whole highlight reel, at least skip to the pick-and-roll with John Collins at 2:25. It’s been too long, Trae!

Stealth tank for the Bulls? League Pass Cup bottom feeder HMM?

Spurs 131, Grizzlies 119Career high 42 for Ja Morant but the Spurs were wearing the Fiesta unis and they are not losing in those things.

Pistons 101, Wolves 111 — Nice win for Minnesota, but lord I just feel so, so bad for Karl-Anthony Towns and all those who have lost loved ones this year. I can’t comprehend the pain.

Kings 124, Nuggets 122 (OT) — Hey, when the Nuggets lose heartbreakers at the buzzer, they do it in style. Denver up two with 24 seconds left in overtime. Michael Porter, Jr. blocks Cory Joseph’s go-ahead three attempt. Next possession, Kings have a little defensive breakdown and Will Barton gets free on a cut to the rim.

Doug Christie on the call.

Harrison Barnes gets the transition lay-up to tie it with 6.5 seconds left. Nikola Jokic, who had a MONSTER GAME, takes the inbound near midcourt. And this happens.

Truly unbelievable KANGZ action. My condolences, Denver.

Jazz 120, Blazers 100 — What did Dame say the other day?

Yeah, man.

(For the sake of the historical record, Dame was referring to the Las Vegas Raiders in that tweet. It applies here, though.)

Mavericks 102, Suns 106 — Luka Doncic had a 32-8-5 game that didn’t feel particularly spectacular (he’s becoming easier to take for granted) but the new Chris Paul-Devin Booker backcourt was the real highlight here. CLUTCH VALLEY! Suns never letting fans back in their arena.

Hitting back-to-back shots from roughly identical spots in the final 90 seconds? Be still my beating heart.

League Pass Cup Standings

It does not appear that Substack supports tables — smart, being an email platform! — so you’re getting screenshots of updated standings for League Pass Cup results. Pretend it’s a clipping from the agate page of the sports section of a newspaper. Trés bespoke!

The next four games in the Cup are coming this weekend.

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Schedule

There are no games on Thursday! We’ll have a brief newsletter on Friday before the Christmas pentaheader, and then another newsletter on Saturday recapping the action.

Links

Leilani Mitchell of the Mystics won Finals MVP in the Australian league. Matt Ellentuck breaks down her epic performance.

Lindsay Gibbs on Tara VanDerveer’s efforts to boost women in basketball coaching, which has meant hiring women exclusively as her assistant coaches for the last 35 years.

Zach Lowe’s annual and beloved watchability rankings on ESPN+. ($)

Marc Spears talks to Stan Van Gundy about the importance of people like him in speaking out.

Big Sean works for the Pistons now. Speaking of the Pistons, the NBA and its 29 other franchise owners were called out in a full-page New York Times ad this week about Pistons governor Tom Gores’ ownership of a company that bilks families of the incarcerated through obscene phone call charges.

Marc Stein on Amar’e Stoudemire, NBA coach.

Zach Kram ranks the NBA’s young cores.

Dorothy J. Gentry on belief in Luka Doncic.

Royce Young on the tough sledding for rookies this season.

Jonathan Tjarks on the Lakers’ different build this year.

Shout out to octopuses.

And finally: my man Paul Flannery on what 41 miles of the Appalachian Trail taught him.

Be excellent to each other.