There was no better player in the NBA during the month of December than James Harden, capping off a great year and better month with a wonderful performance to lead the Houston Rockets to a 102-83 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Not that beating the Hornets is so difficult these days, but they’re actually a bit harder to beat now that Lance Stephenson isn’t playing. Still, there was no one on the court who could come close to Harden, scoring 36 points on 12-of-19 from the field, including eight 3-pointers, adding 7 rebounds and 6 assists, all that in the span of just 33 minutes because there was no need for a lot more. With the Hornets also playing without Al Jefferson, the threat wasn’t all that great.
That meant an easy night for Dwight Howard, scoring 11 points to go with 8 rebounds, although he did turn the ball over six times. Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza continue to be one of the least efficient duo of forwards in the league, although their defense often manages to make up for it. Smith isn’t making most of his shots, but at least he’s not feeling like he’s in a range all by himself, attempting only seven field goals, scoring five points in 28 minutes. Trevor Ariza made only 4-of-12 and is shot just 33.3% from the field in December, finishing with 10 points.
But this is Harden’s team and Ariza and Smith aren’t on this roster to score 25-30 points, not that they can do it on a regular basis. They’re here to plug the holes Harden causes on defense and compliment him whenever necessary. Making open shots, which Ariza finds very difficult since not being on a contract year, would be helpful, because without some more impressive efficiency from them, the Rockets will probably be disappointed with how this season ends.
Harden himself wasn’t very efficient to start out the season, but he shot 47.8% from the field in December and 38.6% from beyond the arc. From the free throw line he continues to be the worst player for teams to foul in this league, averaging 9.1 free throws per game, making 87.5% of them.
James is just a hell of a basketball player. I told him earlier in the year: `The best news that we had was that we were winning games and he wasn’t shooting particularly well. He was on fire. He did a great job of attacking the basket and hitting those 3s.