NBA

James Harden Sometimes Knows What Kind of Night It Will Be by 9 a.m.

Forget about the morning shootaround and afternoon film work that NBA teams do on the day of a game. Both may serve a purpose in preparing for the Los Angeles Clippers. But James Harden can better prepare himself for what he’s going to be up against by going to the NBA website by mid-morning.

Was there something more behind James Harden’s off night?

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The Houston Rockets know that they’re going to be in for some rugged five-on-five against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers finished the regular season with a 52-19 record, 8.5 games better than the Rockets. Houston went seven games to defeat the Oklahoma City on Thursday in the first round while the Lakers were taking out the Portland Trail Blazers in five.

The deciding game of the Rockets-Thunder series had all the tension one would expect. The Rockets prevailed, 104-102, behind balanced scoring, led by 21 points apiece from Eric Gordon and Robert Covington. Russell Westbrook chipped in with 20 points, and James Harden scored 17.

Harden shot just 1-for-9 on 3-pointers while seeing his scoring average for the postseason slip to 29.7 points. Playing the last six minutes with four personal fouls likely wasn’t a factor, but conspiracy theorists may wonder how much time Harden spent that night looking over his shoulder.

James Harden and Chris Paul have a beef with the same referee

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James Harden and Chris Paul have been in the NBA for 11 and 15 seasons, respectively. That included the previous two seasons as teammates in Houston. They won a bunch of games together, but they lost the 2018 Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors in seven games.

One of the referees in the deciding game was Scott Foster, and that has become an issue this week. Until the Rockets eliminated the Thunder on Sept. 2, Harden’s teams had lost the last seven playoffs games that Foster officiated. With that loss this week, Paul has been on the losing end of 10 straight games that Foster has worked.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Foster also worked a regular-season game during the 2018-19 season in which Harden and Paul fouled out, with the latter getting hit with a technical foul. Harden was called for four offensive fouls that night, criticized the officiating, and was fined $25,000.

“It has to be looked at. For sure, it’s personal. For sure,” Harden said after that game. “I don’t think he should be able to officiate our games anymore, honestly. … It’s pretty frustrating. You can’t have a conversation. You get a tech.”

Chris Paul knows that feeling

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Chris Paul has also publicly criticized NBA referee Scott Foster, a 26-year veteran who has worked nearly 200 playoff games. Paul even joked that he officiates as if fans “pay to see” him rather than the players.

Paul and Foster had another run-in in the deciding game of the Rockets-Thunder series as the guard was called for delay of game while tying his shoe. It was actually a ploy to give the Oklahoma City bench time to decide whether it should challenge a call. But given that that floor was still being mopped, the call on Paul looked iffy.

“We could’ve won the game, but that situation — the league knows,” Paul said. “Yeah. They’re going to fine me. I said his name. Yeah. We already know the history.”

It’s moments like that that have players going online at 9 a.m. on the day of games. That’s normally when the NBA posts that day’s officiating assignments.

You can bet that James Harden looked for Scott Foster’s name hours before the Western Conference semifinals opener vs. the Los Angeles Lakers and was happy with what he didn’t see..