Call James Harden the “Iron Chef of Houston,” because when he’s cooking, the Houston Rockets (47-23) can’t be stopped.
In Monday night’s 110-100 win over the Indiana Pacers, Harden ripped the Eastern Conference’s fifth-best defense for 44 points (10-of-21 shooting; 21-of-22 from the free-throw line), seven assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Nineteen of Harden’s 44 came in the fourth quarter, and as the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen noted, that total alone made the rest of his teammates look like mere mortals.
In his pursuit of the NBA scoring title, Harden actually made more free throws (21) than the Pacers attempted as a team (19). Call it boring, call it systematic, call it aesthetically displeasing, but that process produces results.
Chef Beard, your thoughts?
Now fractional points back of Russell Westbrook for the top spot on the NBA’s scoring leaderboard, Harden’s ability to consistently cook up 5-star dishes has kept the depleted Rockets in prime position to capture home-court advantage when the first round of the playoffs rolls around.
According to Feigen, “The Rockets on Saturday fell to 6-11 in games James Harden has not scored at least 20 points (including the game he missed).”
But when he scores 20 or more, the Rockets are 41-12, good for a winning percentage of .774.
“We got to pick it up,” Corey Brewer said following Saturday’s 117-102 loss to the Phoenix Suns, according to Feigen. “We can’t put it all on James. We can’t ask Dwight (Howard) to do a lot when he comes back right away. Our second unit, we have to keep doing what we do, come in, move the ball, get baskets.”
Houston will need more than Harden to make a deep postseason run, but as the regular season draws to a close, his brilliance may be enough to stabilize the team’s quest for a top-three seed.
As long as he’s keeping in line with his season-long average of 10 trips to the charity stripe, Houston should be in good shape—artistic qualms from outsiders be damned. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Houston is now 28-5 when Harden attempts at least 10 freebies, which is comparatively bonkers.
“So, if we’re going to talk about carrying a team by the scruff of its neck to the playoffs, let’s not just give credit to guys who are duking it out to barely make it—let’s give credence to the man who has put his team in contention for the No. 2 seed in spite of less help and more adversity,”Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta wrote.
With the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs on four- and three-game winning streaks, respectively, in pursuit of Houston’s No. 3 seed, Harden is ready to set the table and prepare an unforgettable meal.
source: bleacherreport.com By Alec Nathan