James Harden

This season continues to provide tests and challenges for James Harden, who is passing them all with flying colors, as a terrific performance from him got the Houston Rockets out of a big hole, en route to a overtime win on the road against the Sacramento Kings, 113-109.

Harden lost key players like Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin as teammates over the summer. Dwight Howard is injured, and so are Terrence Jones and Isaiah Canaan. The deck is clearly stacked against the Rockets playing and winning like the best of them, but aside from a slip against the Warriors on the road, which is understandable, the Rockets have been playing some great basketball and most importantly winning, even without Howard.

Harden scored 44 points including the shot that sent the game into overtime to go with 8 assists. He was 14-of-32 from the field and 13-of-15 from the line, improving his scoring average to an NBA-best 26.4 points per game, which is weird to see as the leading scoring average. He is shooting just 42% from the field but that number is on the rise after a sub .400 start, and the Rockets can afford to have Harden shooting that way.

The Sacramento Kings have injury problems of their own, missing DeMarcus Cousins. If you thought not having Howard on the floor hurts, the Kings are lot more dependent on their center, maybe the best in the NBA these days. They had a good thing going against the Rockets until the fourth quarter, allowing 34 points, and finally losing control of Harden, finishing with 3 steals and helping the Rockets score 18 points on the break, making the most of the Kings’ 21 turnovers.

With Rudy Gay shooting just 4-of-18 from the field, the Kings were in a bad spot. Having Reggie Evans, hardly a factor on the offensive side, playing too many minutes (18 is too much for him) hurts them as well, falling to 11-12 in a conference that is very punishing to any team that goes on a needless losing streak. The Rockets cover for their injured players and allow Harden to be himself with the defense from Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley and Tarik Black, who has been surprisingly efficient in the short time he spends on the floor for Houston.

Beverley scored 15 points with 10 rebounds and 5 assists, Ariza helped with 15 points and Donatas Motiejunas scored 14. However, the Rockets were at their best when Jason Terry  (13 points), Troy Daniels and Joe Dorsey (9 rebounds, 5 steals) were on the floor, helping Harden go out on his big runs. Not having to worry about the little things allows Harden to be as dominant and successful as he has this season, even when it comes off a little selfish.

He is now 7-of-11 in the last two seasons when it comes to game-tying or go-ahead field goal attempts coming in the last 24 seconds of a game. That 63.6% is the most among players with at least 10 such attempts over the last two seasons and tied at 7 for made shots with Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard. He is 10-for-20 on those shots in his career, and his 50% success rate is the highest among players with 20 attempts or more. Dirk Nowitzki (45.2%), Joe Johnson (42.9%) and O.J. Mayo (40%) trail him. The league average since Harden entered the league on these shots is 28.3%.

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