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."

These are uncertain times for the NBA as it continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 protocols have left rosters lighter in number and, with contract tracing having a major impact, it is far from surprising to see games being postponed.

The absences have offered some players greater opportunities to impress in the embryonic stages of a shortened season that will require adaptability from all involved.

After an eventful week, Stats Perform assesses those performers who have stood out - for good and bad reasons - in games from January 4-10.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Bradley Beal 

It has been a tough start for the Wizards, who are stuck in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Beal, however, has excelled amid the defeats. He is averaging 35 points per game for the season but has been particularly spectacular in recent outings, including dropping 60 against the Philadelphia 76ers. While it set a new career best for points - and tied a franchise record too - Beal made clear he is not interested in personal milestones: "I just want to win. Sometimes you might be able to score 40, 50, 60, whatever the case may be, but I just want to win".

Tyrese Maxey 

The 21st pick in the 2020 draft had scored a combined tally of 52 points through his first nine NBA appearances. Then, amid injuries, positive COVID tests and coronavirus-enforced isolations, Maxey was thrust into a leading role as one of just seven players available against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. His response to the situation was to score 39 points in just under 44 minutes of action, having taken 33 shots but no free throw attempts. In doing so, he became the first 76ers rookie with at least 35 points in a game since franchise legend Allen Iverson in 1997. 

Jimmy Butler 

Butler has begun to heat up after a cold start to the new campaign for Miami. The five-time All-Star had been hampered by injury issues but has looked back to somewhere near his best of late, managing 18, 26 and 26 points in his past three games. Surprisingly, though, Butler is still yet to manage a successful three-point attempt, missing on his seven shots from deep so far. It is a different story from the free-throw line, though, going 28 of 29 from the charity stripe.

LaMelo Ball 

The rise and rise of the youngest Ball brother continues. The point guard became the youngest player in NBA history to score a triple-double as Charlotte Hornets beat the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. At 19 years and 140 days old, Ball had 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. He had narrowly missed out on achieving the feat in his team's previous outing, against a New Orleans Pelicans team that included older sibling Lonzo. His rebounding average has gone from 4.33 a game to 9.25 across the past week. 

GOING COLD...

James Harden  

The NBA's scoring champion for the previous three seasons, Harden is still averaging 26 points per game despite continued doubts over his long-term future in Houston. However, it has not been a particularly productive week for the guard, who has not reached double digits in terms of field goals made in four straight outings. There were 15-point displays against both the Pacers and the Magic, then 20 points in a defeat to the Lakers. Across that stretch, Harden was six for 22 from three-point range. Astonishingly, he did not attempt a solitary free throw against Orlando. 

Trae Young 

To say Young has gone cold from deep recently is an understatement. The Atlanta Hawk landed five of six attempts in the season-opener against the Bulls, but since then has managed just nine successful long-range shots, including going a combined one for 14 in his most recent three appearances. Understandably, then, his average for points per game has dipped from 28.17 on January 3 to 17.67 for the past week.

Russell Westbrook 

A quadriceps injury will keep Westbrook sidelined for at least a week. His early form with the Wizards has been steady, including reaching double digits for points in all of his seven games for the franchise. Where there has been a dip for the former NBA MVP is in rebounding. He was up at 11.20 per game for the season by January 3, but he has averaged 6.00 for the past week following reduced contributions in defeats to the 76ers and the Celtics.

Blake Griffin  

Griffin hit with eight of 16 three-point shots for Detroit against the Cavaliers on December 26, but his output from long range since suggests that number could prove to be a post-Christmas outlier when compared to the rest of the season. In the past week, the 31-year-old has landed two from deep out of 18 tries for the struggling Pistons. His overall field goal percentage is down on his career mark too (37.6 per cent from 49.7 per cent), explaining why he is averaging 13.9 points per game. 

Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas hailed his team after they beat the Sacramento Kings despite losing James Harden shortly before tip-off on Saturday.

Harden turned his ankle late in the previous game against the Kings on Thursday but was not ruled out until 30 minutes before the subsequent 102-94 win, having by then gone through his shooting routine in the warm-up.

Silas was delighted the late blow did not prove decisive.

"[Harden] was just going to see how it felt," the coach said. "Obviously it didn't feel good enough for him to play.

"For us to win this game without him is pretty special."

John Wall stepped up in Harden's absence, making his mark with 28 points after coronavirus contact-tracing protocols kept him quarantined for the start of the season.

Wall, acquired from the Washington Wizards in a trade for Russell Westbrook, has registered 50 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds across two wins against the Kings since returning from a two-year injury lay-off.

Silas said: "I didn't have many expectations [of Wall]. I didn’t know what to expect. I saw some Instagram videos and stuff, playing pickup.

"We heard from people that said he looked good. But we didn't know until we got him.

"Whatever expectations I had, he obviously exceeded them. He's scoring. He's making plays for others.

"He's still rusty with his decision-making and he knows that. That's just a part of it. When you haven't played in so long, you shouldn't expect him to be totally crisp all the way through."

John Wall enjoyed his Houston Rockets debut, saying his job was to make James Harden's life a little easier.

In his first regular-season appearance since December 2018, Wall helped the Rockets past the Sacramento Kings 122-119 on Thursday.

Wall finished with 22 points, nine assists and six rebounds, while Harden had 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

After his debut for the Rockets, Wall said he enjoyed his connection with Harden.

"I think it was cool. I missed some easy shots, trying to get some rust off, no matter how much I practice and play in preseason it's a bit different when you get in real games," the guard told a news conference.

Wall added: "My job here is to help James as much as possible, make it a little easier for him.

"You know when we need a bucket and get to crunch-time situation, you know what he's capable of."

Harden scored 16 fourth-quarter points for the Rockets, who claimed their first win of the season.

The eight-time All-Star was pleased with the win, while praising Wall's performance.

"He was extremely aggressive, making plays, defensively getting after it, he looked really, really good, especially not playing in almost two years," Harden said.

"Once we get a rhythm and guys get into their roles and find their best fit for the team, we'll be even better.

"But I'm happy in the last six minutes when it was time to get stops we did and offensively we executed."

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