NBA Season Restart: Harden Appears in First Practice With Rockets

NBA Season Restart: Harden Appears in First Practice With Rockets

Harden clears out coronavirus rumors, arrives at Orlando fully-healthy

Houston Rockets fans can now heave a sigh of relief as their star James Harden has finally arrived at the Orlando bubble. Following speculations that Harden has also tested positive for the coronavirus, the former MVP was seen arriving at the bubble a couple of days ago. His co-star Russell Westbrook announced a couple of days ago that he contracted the virus, and will not join the Rockets until he is cleared to go.

In a video conference call he recently had with the media, Harden reiterated his passion for the game and his competitive desire to help his team win.

"I think the world knows, no matter what's going on, James Harden loves to hoop. He's a competitor, so today in practice we got after it. We played a couple of quarters and we pushed ourselves, and I'm doing a lot of trash talking as usual, just to get the guys motivated and keep pushing.
We don't have any fans, so it's you versus us and we're going to have to figure it out.  If you're fourth seed, fifth seed, sixth seed, it doesn't really matter. For us, it's about being in shape and making sure that our offense and our defense is crispy and we're all on the same page. We'll play anybody."

Harden, who is leading the league in scoring with 34.4 points per game, will again be the driving force of this Rockets squad. His partnership with Westbrook will be tested when it matters the most in the playoffs, although this micro-ball Houston group has plenty to prove as a whole unit.

As for Westbrook, the all-around point guard is expected to arrive at the bubble after the required two-week quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test. The priority for the All-Star right now is on his recovery, although there will be concerns in terms of his conditioning and game shape when he joins the team in the Orlando bubble.

Going back to Harden, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni emphasized that there’s nothing to worry regarding the former MVP’s game shape. It’s understandable why fans are worried about the players’ conditioning, especially considering that they didn’t have access to practice facilities for over three months.

D’Antoni said that Harden went all-in in just his first practice with the team.

"He looked good. He probably was rusty for about 30 seconds, and then he was back.
I thought we'd have to ramp him up a little bit, but he's been going hard before he got here. I didn't see any difference whatsoever. Now, we'll watch [Friday]. If he's sore or something else, then maybe we'll back him off, but right now he's full tilt. He looks like he's ready to go."

Harden and the Rockets will have their first assignment in the bubble against sophomore wonder Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. It will be followed with tough match-ups against the Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Rockets, who shipped out big man Clint Capela mid-way through the season for them to fully-activate a small-ball line-up, are sitting on the sixth spot in the Western Conference. The team is sporting a decent record of 40 wins against 24 defeats.

Harrell leaves bubble to attend to family matters

Los Angeles Clippers combo big man Montrezl Harrell has left the Orlando bubble to deal with important family matters at home. The 6-foot-7 Harrell has been a leader for the Clippers’ second unit, posting stellar numbers of 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds off the bench.

Of course, the Clippers’ priority regarding Harrell is how he will cope with the family problem in front of him. He hinted on his Instagram account that it could be about his grandmother, and the sports community is certainly wishing the best for Montrezl and his family.

With Harrell absent in the bubble, the Clippers are fielding a depleted line-up. Fortunately, they have their two stars with them, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. As per a column written by Kurt Helin of NBC Sports, George says that missing key cogs has been a challenge that they have been dealing with all season long. However, George also expressed his regret that their momentum and groove were cut short by the suspension of games.

“You know, we’ve been down and missed guys pretty much all season long, so we’ve  been filling it in. We’ve been holding it down until everybody has been available, and we plan on continuing to do so.
It was a little frustrating because we played our way all the way up until that point, we played ourselves into that chemistry, into that zone we were in…It was tough to take this little break. But I think ultimately it’s going to pay off. Again, we had so many guys dealing with little nicks and bruises, and we were one of the teams that could have benefitted off of the healing process and coming together healthy. This break did wonders for this group, and we’re going to pick up where we left off at.”

Along with the acquisition of Leonard and George last summer, the Clippers front office also brought in quality players such as Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris midway through the season to bolster their depth. Three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams initially hesitated in playing in the season restart due to his belief that it should be the priority of the players to fight against social injustice issues.

Eventually, Williams’ decision was to compete at Orlando, where he could have an even bigger platform to advocate his beliefs. However, it is also reported that not every key cog in the Clippers team is present in the bubble.

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk wrote that Morris, Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet and JaMychal Green didn’t travel with the squad to the bubble. It’s fortunate that Green has already arrived just recently. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers addressed these reports, while also reiterating the importance of supporting Harrell’s decision to leave the team and be with his family.

"Things happen in our lives, so we've just got to leave it there. It's obviously a personal matter at home that he did need to go to. So we're just going to wait for him. Like when he needs to get back, he'll be back.
To be honest, JaMychal walked in and surprised the hell out of me. They're in quarantine and stuff, you don't ever know. As far as guys that have showed up and not showed up, we don't talk about that. So we're going to continue to not talk about it."

The Clippers will be going up against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for their first assignment in the Orlando bubble. It remains to be seen if Harrell, Shamet and Morris will be with them by that time, but it is a sure thing that George and Leonard will do everything to hold down the fort. There is the precaution that they can’t rush players to immediately log in heavy minutes, so Rivers also has to do his magic in figuring out the teams rotation.

A sports aficionado ever since he first held a basketball, Paul was a student athlete in school and college. Today, he teaches English in university by day and a freelance sportswriter by night.

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