On eve of elimination game vs. Lakers, Houston guard Danuel House ejected from the NBA bubble

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In the playoffs, you need all the help you can get.

a man holding a football ball: Houston Rockets’ Danuel House Jr. (4) defends against Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Houston Rockets’ Danuel House Jr. (4) defends against Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

So on the eve of an elimination Game 5 against the Lakers, the Houston Rockets got unfortunate news: Danuel House, one of their key rotation players, was forced to leave the bubble after an NBA investigation concluded he had breached health protocols by inviting an unauthorized guest to his room.

The Rockets played the last two games, both losses, without House (11.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg in the playoffs) after the league launched an investigation into a Sept. 8 encounter with an unauthorized guest, reported by The Athletic to be a female subcontractor, in his room in the Grand Floridian Hotel for multiple hours. The Rockets are the only team occupying the hotel, which also is a quarantine site for some player guests.

House won’t play again for Houston this season, which now that the Rockets are down 3-1 is looking perilously short. Houston did not hold a media availability ahead of Saturday’s Game 5, tipping at 5 p.m. PDT.

It’s the first violation of bubble protocol that has resulted in the player having to leave. Richaun Holmes and Bruno Cabaclo (who is also on the Rockets) received additional quarantine after violating the required boundaries for food pick-up. The Clippers’ Lou Williams had to quarantine for additional time after it was revealed he visited an Atlanta strip club during an absence from the team for personal reasons.

House had played in nine games for the Rockets, starting four in place of Russell Westbrook. The Lakers have capitalized on the shortened rotation with their depth, even throwing rookie Talen Horton-Tucker at them in the last game. But Danny Green, a winner of two titles in San Antonio and Toronto, cautioned against complacency.

“Elimination games are always hard regardless of what round it is,”  he said. “They’re always hard. It’s the hardest game to win. A team has nothing to lose and they’re fighting for their lives.”

The Lakers are largely occupied off court with their families from when player guests were let into the bubble a week-and-a-half ago. Coach Frank Vogel said he’s not concerned about his team making the same mistake as House.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like our group has to have that talk,” Vogel said. “Our guys are really locked into the task at hand. Obviously the situation is a reminder, they’re seeing it on their phones. Obviously we don’t want to do that.”

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Rockets lose to Lakers as NBA investigates Danuel House

The Rockets who took the court for a 110-100 loss to the Lakers in Game 4 — a contest that was far less competitive than the final score indicated — left themselves befuddled with their poor showing in a series that Los Angeles now leads 3-1.

James Harden, who scored 21 points but shot just 2-11 from the field, said that it was a “good question” why Houston came out flat for three quarters, but stopped there before offering any depth. Russell Westbrook, who scored a team-high 25 points, said he “[didn’t] have an explanation” for why there was no “sense of urgency.” Coach Mike D’Antoni said only that there was a “lack of spirit,” minutes after loud shouting from inside Houston’s locker room could be heard in the arena’s hallway.

It’s no coincidence that the Rockets’ collapse against the Lakers has coincided with the NBA’s investigation of forward Danuel House for violating the bubble’s health and safety protocols, and center Tyson Chandler, who was initially suspected but later cleared.

House, a 27-year-old backup forward in his fourth season, did not play in Game 3 or Game 4, with the Rockets citing “personal reasons” for his first absence. While the NBA has not formally announced a ruling or even that it is investigating House, people with knowledge of the situation confirmed that House was sidelined for hosting an unauthorized guest at the Rockets’ team hotel. House has maintained his innocence, although NBA security investigators felt they had sufficient evidence to keep him out of a playoff series that was tied at one game apiece.

The Rockets were informed Tuesday — the day of their Game 3 loss to the Lakers — that Chandler and House were under investigation after the NBA discovered that a female subcontractor who worked in the bubble had passed security checkpoints and gained access to the Grand Floridian hotel on Monday night. Chandler was subsequently cleared to rejoin the team for Game 4; House was not, and he has remained confined to his hotel room this week as he awaits word from the league on his status.

There had been no indication as of Thursday night that House will cleared before Saturday’s Game 5, in which Houston faces elimination. Previous violators of the NBA’s quarantine protocol, including Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes and Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, have been required to remain quarantined for up to 10 days, which would sideline House for the duration of the series even if it went seven games.

People with knowledge of the situation, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about the ongoing investigation, said that the Rockets were “blindsided” by the NBA’s decision and that there had been little direct communication between the league office and team officials and Houston had received no formal presentation of evidence. Instead, communication continues between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

“The NBA is treating [House] as guilty until proven innocent for safety reasons,” said one person with

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