James Harden Defense

With so many injuries the Houston Rockets are dealing with right now – Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Greg Smith, it’s essential James Harden doesn’t just have great games, but doesn’t try and do everything on his own. Unfortunately for the Rockets, there’s no one stopping Harden from doing just that, leading to a third loss at home, this time to the surprising Phoenix Suns.

Harden has no one to keep him in check – not on the court, and certainly no head coach that tells him to do anything but whatever he pleased. The result? An aggressive defense from P.J. Tucker and the Suns helped Harden achieve the impressive stat line of 14 points on 3-of-17 from the field, turning the ball over five times. This is the third time in Harden’s career with at least 17 field goal attempts and three or less of them made. All these games have happened in Rockets uniform, somewhat telling of what kind of things he allows himself to do under Kevin McHale.

It’s as if no one on the Rockets saw the Suns play this season, and no one came up with a game plan to try and counter an aggressive and athletic team that attack right from the start. The Rockets turned the ball over 22 times, finishing with only 13 assists. The only time the ball was actually moving was when Aaron Brooks was on the floor. Patrick Beverley didn’t do too badly himself. However, Harden, with 0-of-10 from beyond the arc, was the main reason the Rockets lost 88-97, as Kevin McHale falied to devise a game plan that offers something different.

Phoenix Suns

Like what? Dwight Howard, for example. He finished with 15 points and 18 rebounds. He was only 4-of-11 from the field, but did quite nicely from the line at 7-of-9, and the Rockets should have done a much better job at getting him the ball. The problem was there was no ball movement that makes Houston such a dangerous team, or too few of it. The Rockets and especially Harden latched onto the ball way too much before trying to find an open shot at the last available moment, resulting in 35.2% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc – numbers that a shooting team like Houston can’t afford to have.

Yes, injuries are a good excuse – Lin and Parsons are what brings intelligence and thinking to the Rockets’ game. Ball movement, spacing, and an actual alternative to the number one option in McHale’s playbook (and possibly the only one there): Give the ball to Harden and hope for the best, but Omer Asik not playing, and Greg Smith still being out as well can’t be making it easy for those who remain.

The Rockets have built up enough of a decent record (13-7) to let this rough stretch ruin it all for them, but it’s clear they need Lin and Parsons back on the court. Not just for the offense they bring, but for the calming influence they have on Harden, pretty much forcing him to consider giving the ball to other players and not trying to run everything through him. When losses actually teach you something, and it’s hard to say what McHale is learning, then you can afford to have them. If nothing changes from yet another appalling and selfish performance from a player who can be the best shooting guard in the NBA, the Rockets aren’t going very far this season.

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