James Harden

Another great night from James Harden was almost ruined by his usual defensive lapse. Still the Houston Rockets overcame that defensive mistake to come away with a 115-111 overtime win against the Denver Nuggets, increasing the MVP discussion around their star shooting guard.

Not everything James Harden does is so great. He continues to have very inefficient shooting nights, including going 1-of-7 from beyond the arc despite getting good, clean looks at the basket. It was his defensive mistake (not for the first time) that allowed Arron Afflalo to hit a game-tying 3-pointer that sent it into overtime. An MVP should be a bit more, no? More complete? Less flaws in his game, which seem to stick with Harden for his entire Rockets tenure?

In this season so far, he’s doing enough, at least to mentioned up there with other candidates. LeBron James is doing his best to stay away from forcing himself on the Cavaliers, Kevin Durant is being outgunned by Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and both of them have missed quite a lot of games. Stephen Curry is having a very good season for the Warriors, Marc Gasol in Memphis and maybe if Chris Bosh wasn’t injured, he’d be in the discussion as well. Harden hasn’t set himself apart from the rest of the ground, but he isn’t behind anyone either.

Despite starting to get players back from injuries, the Rockets keep losing other ones as well. Dwight Howard is back, scoring 24 points to go with 16 rebounds and even a 10-of-15 game from the line. Patrick Beverley finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds while Isaiah Canaan is coming off the bench, not getting a lot of minutes this time. The Rockets fell behind or squandered leads every time they turned to their bench.

With 41 points, including 18-of-21 from the line, Harden becomes just the second player this season alongside LeBron James to have two games of 40 points or more. He added 10 assists and also took 21 shots from the field. In short, it’s hard to actually find a possession when the ball doesn’t go through him. He is the Rockets’ best player, but sometimes you think that he just might be overused or over relied on in the offensive game. The two first round knockouts in the last two years, despite having home court advantage last season, prove that kind of thinking as right.

The lineups for the Nuggets keep changing, but Brian Shaw hasn’t been able to get consistency out of this team, falling to 10-15 this season, and more and more voices think about why George Karl was fired. Wilson Chandler led the team with 23 points and Afflalo, besides his huge shot added 22. But Timofey Mozgov was miserable facing Howard in the paint, scoring just one point in 19 minutes. Kenneth Faried continues to show that doing well in international basketball doesn’t translate into success in the NBA beyond what he’s done so far.

The Rockets, as long as they’re not playing with everyone they have, remain a vulnerable team, that relies on Harden to do everything on offense while Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza, continuing his awful shooting form with 4-of-15 from the field (shooting just 32.4% from the field in December, 36.5% for the season) hold up the defensive end of the bargain. For now, it’s just a bit inferior to the teams leading the conference.

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