NBA

Rockets farewell? Harden says he's done everything he can in Houston as Wall fires back

By Sports Desk January 13, 2021

James Harden appears to be heading for a Houston Rockets exit after his frustrations boiled over following the team's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden reportedly wants to be traded to either the Philadelphia 76ers or another contender in the NBA, and the former MVP had a clear message after the Rockets were swept aside by defending champions the Lakers 117-100 on Tuesday.

The Rockets star walked out of his post-game news conference, not before telling the media: "I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can.

"This situation is crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."

Led by Harden, the Rockets have reached two Western Conference Finals, while Houston have three semi-final appearances since the eight-time All-Star was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.

In 2019-20, points scored by Harden and points scored off his assists averaged 52.4 per game. It followed 53.9 in 2018-19, 51.3 in 2017-18 and 56 the season previous.

That marked four successive seasons with 50-plus points per game created, tying Oscar Robertson (1963-64 to 1966-67) for the longest streak in NBA history.

Harden averaged 34.3 points, 7.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game for the Rockets, who lost in the Western Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort.

But Harden looks out of shape and out of sorts in 2020-21 amid links to the likes of the 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors.

Harden made just five of 16 shots from the field, while he only nailed one of his six three-point attempts for 16 points in 31 minutes as the Rockets slumped to 3-6.

"We're not even close, honestly, to that team – obviously the defending champions – and all the other elite teams out there," Harden said. "I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.

"We're just not good enough – chemistry, talent-wise, just everything. And it was clear these last two games."

Moments after Harden left the podium, Rockets team-mate John Wall stepped up and the five-time All-Star did not hold back as he addressed the situation in Houston.

"When you have certain guys in the mix who don't want to buy in, all as one, it's going to be hard to do anything special, to do anything good as a basketball team," said Wall, who was acquired by the Rockets after Russell Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards.

Wall added: "We can't dwell down on it because it's only been nine games. Come on man, you want to jump off a cliff after nine games. It's a lot of basketball still to be played."

Asked about his partnership with Harden on the court, Wall said: "I think it's been a little rocky. Can't lie about that. I don't think it's been the best it could be, to be honest. That's all I really could say."

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    Inter proved they have what it takes to maintain a serious title challenge this season by defeating reigning champions Juventus 2-0, according to Arturo Vidal.

    Vidal opened the scoring against his former club at San Siro on Sunday, heading home a cross from Nicolo Barella to find the net in Serie A for the first time since his goal clinched the Scudetto for Juve in May 2015.

    He became the first ex-Juve player to score for Inter in the Derby d'Italia since Christian Vieri in 2004 and the eighth player to score for both sides in the fixture.

    Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku missed opportunities to add to Inter's tally but Barella made no mistake with an emphatic finish in the 52nd minute.

    The Nerazzurri consequently claimed their first league win against Juve since September 2016 and their first with a clean sheet since April 2010.

    Antonio Conte's side moved level with Serie A leaders Milan on 40 points and opened up a seven-point advantage over the reigning champions.

    Milan can restore their three-point cushion by beating Cagliari in their game in hand on Inter on Monday, but Vidal does not think Conte's men are going to fall away.

    "It's important for me and for the team. It was a very difficult game against the best team in Italy," Vidal told Sky Sport Italia.

    "I am glad to have scored my first goal for Inter, very happy. I think we proved that we are up to the task of fighting for the Scudetto.

    "This gives us the confidence to keep pushing, to believe we can win the Scudetto, as we beat the strongest team over the past nine years. We believe that we can go all the way."

    Ahead of kick-off, Vidal was seen kissing the Juve badge on Giorgio Chiellini's training top while the pair shared a hug. He then celebrated his goal in a muted fashion.

    Conte led Juve to three straight Serie A titles to start their ongoing period of dominance and finally got his first league victory over them at the fourth attempt.

    Despite Inter coming out on top and Juve being seven points adrift, Conte still believes the Bianconeri are the team to beat in the race for the title.

    "In order to beat a team like Juventus, which for all the Italian clubs are the reference point, we have to put in a great performance. We did that," said Conte.

    "We prepared well and it's satisfying to see that we were right about the things we thought could hurt Juventus. The lads followed the plan perfectly and I am very happy for them because these are games that must give you self-belief, let you understand you are on the right path.

    "We already saw the fruits of this process last season and we are continuing to see them this term. Juventus were an important reference point, a side that dominated Serie A for nine years, having done exceptional work both on the field and as a club.

    "I still maintain Juve have a gap not just from Inter, but all the other clubs, but we are working to close the gap."

    In what appeared to be a dig at his club, Conte added: "If people think we are the favourites now, imagine if we'd been able to work in the transfer market in August. We'd be massive favourites!"

  • Barcelona 2-3 Athletic Bilbao (aet): Messi sent off as Williams stuns Barca Barcelona 2-3 Athletic Bilbao (aet): Messi sent off as Williams stuns Barca

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  • Inter midfielders set benchmark to end misery against Juve Inter midfielders set benchmark to end misery against Juve

    If Juventus are "a benchmark" and "a reference point", as Antonio Conte suggested pre-match, the Inter head coach can now feel much more positive about his side's Scudetto hopes after a superb 2-0 win.

    Conte, formerly the main man in Turin, had good reason to be pessimistic even as the Nerazzurri entered the Derby d'Italia four points ahead of the champions.

    Juve were the only Serie A opponents against whom Conte possessed an 100 per cent losing record, beaten in each of his prior three matches against his former club.

    And Inter's misery in this fixture extended beyond the start of Conte's reign, going seven without a win as Juve used meetings with the Nerazzurri to consolidate their domestic dominance.

    Indeed, there was little reason heading into this match to doubt Juve's credentials, with Andrea Pirlo's side seemingly building up a head of steam in his rookie season.

    The Bianconeri had followed up a shock December defeat at home to Fiorentina with four straight successes in all competitions, scoring 13 times in the process.

    Among those victories was a deserved triumph at league leaders Milan. Juve had not won at both Milan and Inter in the first half of a Serie A season in 80 years; they now had the opportunity to do so in consecutive away games.

    But preparations were not ideal. Cristiano Ronaldo, like opposite number Romelu Lukaku, had not been able to enjoy the week of rest he had set aside, instead called from the bench in a midweek Coppa Italia tie and forced to see out extra time.

    Ronaldo played on the fringes at San Siro, his most notable involvement an 11th-minute tap-in ruled out for offside, with the clash between two of Serie A's foremost scorers not panning out as many would have imagined.

    Lukaku was as influential as ever in the Inter attack, running Giorgio Chiellini ragged as he contested 15 duels, winning nine, earned three fouls and conceded two, and created three chances.

    There was no goal for the forward, though, as the game was decided in the midfield, where Inter were even more impressive, setting the tone right from the outset.

    Marcelo Brozovic anchored the side, Nicolo Barella buzzed all over the pitch, and Arturo Vidal - the subject of a clip on social media that appeared to show him kissing the badge of former club Juve pre-match - made clear where his loyalties now lie.

    Conte had failed to offer an explanation for some slow starts so far this season but certainly had no need to worry about that issue on this occasion. By half-time, Inter's only concern could have been their failure to add to a lead secured by Vidal.

    The midfielder, whose previous Serie A goal back in 2015 had won Juve the title, spread the ball wide to Barella moments after Ronaldo's disallowed goal and then ran onto the subsequent cross, towering over Danilo to nod beyond Wojciech Szczesny and offer a muted celebration.

    That was one of 11 first-half Inter efforts, their joint-high this season. Juve mustered just three before the break, a joint-low for them.

    But this unpredictable Inter side had led 4-1 and trailed 2-0 respectively on the previous two occasions they had attempted 11 shots in the opening 45 minutes this term.

    Juan Sebastian Veron, a former Inter star, told Stats Perform News prior to this game the Nerazzurri would "need to be decisive". Despite the opener, they were anything but.

    Vidal's wait for his next Serie A strike should have lasted only three minutes, but he blazed over. Then so too did Lautaro Martinez after Szczesny saved from Lukaku.

    Martinez shot wide and Szczesny again denied Lukaku, before scrambling to retrieve Barella's deflected drive. A one-goal first-half deficit felt like an escape for Juve.

    But if the Bianconeri were going to make their hosts pay, a swifter start to the second period would have to follow.

    Instead, Inter scored with their very first shot after the break and finally the game was beyond Juve. A slipping Alessandro Bastoni's low, long pass somehow tore a gaping hole through the visiting defence and Barella, a deserving scorer, held off Chiellini and Gianluca Frabotta to finish high into the net.

    Rather than call on Weston McKennie and Dejan Kulusevski to build on an advantage, as against Milan, Pirlo turned to the pair in a desperate, failed rescue bid.

    Juve still had 32 minutes to forge a response after reinforcements arrived, but one strong Samir Handanovic save from Federico Chiesa was all they had to show for a period of pressure.

    Inter could have added further goals on the counter yet will worry not. Indecisive, perhaps, Conte's side ended the weekend level on points with Milan. It is now for Pirlo and Juve, seven points back, to rise to this benchmark.

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