Rockets flopping their way to an early offseason

Once upon a time, the NBA was full of contact.

Even violence. Fistfights. Hard screens were common and flaring tempers came with the price of admission.

It seems like a lifetime ago, though, with flopping more common than the aforementioned, and the Rockets perhaps the league’s biggest offender.

The NBA swore to uphold a rule that would punish players who flopped often. Fines have been doled out here and there, but the promise has been pretty empty.

James Harden, the Rockets’ star guard, is in a class all by his self when it comes to this obscene methodology of scoring points.

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Through two games, Harden has flopped at least 10 times, and though he received no calls during the first game of this series, he did in Game 2.

Almost all coming in the first half. On which his head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said:

“You could see they’ve been trained how to defend him. Throwing their hands back. But nothing changed. He was just as aggressive, and the contact I thought was the same. He just didn’t get the whistle.”

Anyone unemployed or with similar time can break down tape. But just as well, the 80 hour per week hustler can watch 15 minutes and get the idea.

Evidence: with 6:20 left in the second quarter Monday night, Harden was behind the three-point line with Leandro Barbosa on defense. Harden pulled up, and without any contact, or really an attempt at contact, the Houston guard flew his body backwards and heaved an air-ball.

Harden flops like a dog runs when they hear kibble clinking into their food tray. It’s natural. Almost expected.

And to his credit, he’s led the league in free throw attempts for the past two years. He’s good at it. And it helps carry his team, without a running clock, and while the oldies on Houston can catch their breath.

It’s smart, in a way. But equally pathetic.

It’s something the Rockets do a lot. Not just Harden, it’s the whole team.

Warriors-Rockets Game 2 photo gallery

Patrick Beverly, Dwight Howard and Corey Brewer. Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza. If you wear a red jersey in Oakland this time of year, odds are pretty good that you’ve gotten the wanted end of the stick on a flop call.

Gone are the days of streetball at Rucker Park in Harlem being the holy grace of a sport anyone can play for almost nothing, and almost anywhere. Gone are intense battles of will and might. Gone is the integrity of basketball.

But there’s something else: a team that relies on flopping and general officiating calls to win, is gone from the playoffs. And quickly.

Which is the most perplexing part of flopping. A team who needs to persuade an officiating crew is done for. They’re hopeless.

Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff sounded off about hard play and defending Stephen Curry — who missed Monday’s tilt after a non contact ankle injury sustained during Game 1. Bickerstaff said that the playoffs bring physicality.

Which Steve Kerr agreed with, and having played in several postseason series, the little big man knows well. Anyone who avidly watches the NBA knows this to be true.

It’s generally what wins championships, so long as there’s a healthy mix of offense, and the contact play coming in the right situations.

But Bickerstaff’s tough motto doesn’t translate. There’s no toughness in his team. No starvation for the basket. No grit to take what they want. Not even the slightest bit of desire to dominate.

Houston is a team that looks happy with mediocrity. Despite landing two of the top free agents in 2012 and 2013, with Harden and Howard respectively.

The tandem talked big about winning a championship with Houston. Howard referenced leaving $30 million on the table to play for the Rockets — an absurd notion that while true in contract value, is offset in reality by Texas tax laws.

Howard’s statement is the kind of thing that translates onto the floor. Cheap tricks and lies.

It’s infuriating enough to mentally break into an Eminem mode, insanely flipping words around in an angry tone and making it sound good somehow.

The egregiousness of Harden flops, in particular, are some next level stuff. With 1:14 on the clock during the second quarter, Harden was back at it. Behind the arc. With zero contact.

Every two or three minutes, he did this throughout the night. Lies and parlor tricks.

The NBA is supposed to step in during games like this. The league actually fined Curry for losing balance during last year’s playoffs. Against the Rockets, no less.

It was their way of making it seems as though they were doing something — take the most notable player in the league, and slap him on the wrist, even though he plays with the heart of a lion and the ferocity of a tyrannosaurus rex.

One minute after Harden flopped, he did it again. This time guarded by Draymond Green, with seven seconds left. No contact. No nothing.

The NBA needs to do something about it. For the sanctity of basketball. For the game to advance into the next level. Even if they don’t know what that really is.

The league needs to take a stand. Talk with the union and figure out a way to increase consequences. Maybe a suspension for every third offense. Possibly employ a portion of the replay center to review flops and assess penalties in the following quarter.

Basketball has to toughen up, to some degree, and quickly. For your sanity and mine.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.