The Houston Rockets have been a puzzling, dysfunctional mess for the vast majority of the season, and it has seemed like a lot of it has been because of chemistry. Their two stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard, are at the center of this, according to ESPN's Calvin Watkins:

It starts with Harden and Howard, the team's two stars. They have tried to be friends -- Harden picked up Howard's tab for dinner in New York on his birthday. During dinner in Phoenix at the All-Star break, the two discussed their on-court issues.

But ultimately, the chemistry between the two hasn't been there. One team source said: "It's cordially bad."

Howard feels he's a star and should be respected in the locker room. Howard, known to be playful with media members, was distant over the last two months of the regular season. He was largely frozen out of the offense despite coaches and players saying he needs the ball.

Harden, who has the ear of Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey, is a mixture of many things. He's aloof, has a dry sense of humor and a passion for winning. His frustration over losing bothers him greatly.

While Howard is irked by not getting the ball as often as he would like, it is Harden who is dismayed by the center. He wishes Howard would demand the ball and not goof around so much. Howard's personality -- bubbly, friendly, warm -- often can rub guarded people such as Harden the wrong way. Howard jokes with fans during games and easily becomes frustrated with referees.

The only thing surprising about this report is the timing. Usually, this sort of stuff comes out after the season is over. Of course, there have been reports about the Rockets' search for a new coach during the playoffs, too, so this isn't a normal situation. 

All signs point to Howard leaving this summer in free agency, which would clear the way for Clint Capela to take over as Houston's starting center. It is strange how Harden and Howard's partnership seems to have dissolved, especially considering how well their skill sets fit together. Together they won 54 games two years ago, and last season they got to the Western Conference Finals. It appears, though, that their working relationship had an expiry date. 

Game 6 between the Rockets and Golden State Warriors is Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET. Houston is down 3-1 in the series, so this could be Harden and Howard's last game as teammates. 

Dwight Howard and James Harden could be just about done as teammates.  (USATSI)
Dwight Howard and James Harden could be just about done as teammates. (USATSI)