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The Rockets’ 27-hour journey: 2,000 miles of travel, 2 games, 1 heartbreaking funeral

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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James Harden sports the Sasha McHale tribute during Tuesday's win (Getty Images)

Any amount of travel, especially air travel, can completely take the wind out of the passenger. It's wearying, no matter the destination or circumstances, and hard to work through even if you have a professional athlete's physical and mental makeup.

The Houston Rockets will attempt something heartwarming on Wednesday, something that would take the legs right out of any traveler on a number of meaningful levels. Following Tuesday night's win over the Toronto Raptors in Houston, the team flew up to Minnesota overnight. On Wednesday, they will be attending the funeral of Sasha McHale. Sasha passed away on Saturday, and she is the daughter of Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who has been away from the team since Nov. 10 in order to care for his ailing child. This will be the team's first personal encounter with McHale in 2 1/2 weeks.

Somehow, hearts broken, the team will then have to board an 800-mile flight to Oklahoma City that will land at 3:30 (all times Central, and local). Houston will then attempt to play the Oklahoma City Thunder 3 1/2 hours after touching down with some semblance of duty, honor, and hoped-for energy. That sound you hear is thousands of fans of other teams switching allegiance for Wednesday night's contest.

The team is carrying through with the schedule because, frankly, a meaningless basketball game between the Thunder and Rockets has absolutely no impact on anything but 1/82nd of a sports league's season standings. Even if it was basketball that helped Sasha and her father keep a close bond.

The shortest-tenured Rocket — James Harden wasn't traded to Houston until just before midnight on Oct. 27 — took the lead in a conversation with NBA.com's Fran Blinebury:

"We're trying to support him and be there for him as much as possible," said guard James Harden. "It means a lot, knowing our schedule, knowing we have a game the same day. Obviously, it doesn't take away the pain from what he lost. We're just trying to be there to offer support as much as we can."

The Rockets, in a nod to Sasha McHale's favorite color green and Lupus Awareness' designated purple tone, will be wearing purple and green ribbons during the contest, as they did against the Raptors on Tuesday. It wouldn't be inappropriate for Oklahoma City to do the same. This will be Harden's first game back in Oklahoma City following Houston's trade for the former Thunder All-Star, and we're hoping for some tact and understanding from Thunder fans as James and his new team take the court on Wednesday night.

The Rockets aren't looking for your sympathy, far from it. Nor are they attempting to grab a locked-in excuse for losing by 25 on NBA TV Wednesday night to the Thunder — on the second night of a back-to-back, that was always a consideration anyway.

No, they're doing this because they have to. It's what you do.

And while it's true that players from other NBA eras probably had it tougher in terms of travel, and game scheduling, those teams also weren't flying from two of the mainland's most southern and northernmost points to attend something as crushing as this in the hours between two games scheduled 24 hours removed from each other.

Unending bows and well-wishes to the Rockets for making this work, and a nudge sent in the NBA's direction (these things are hard, we understand if this isn't feasible) if they could manage to delay tip-off for a half-hour or so just to be sure everyone stumbles in on time.

And, as always, our thoughts are with the McHale family as they attempt to recover from this tragedy.

Hat-tip to Pro Basketball Talk for bringing this to our attention Tuesday night.

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