James Harden

Where is the MVP candidate James Harden? What’s happened to him? Might it be true? Is it all about him getting or not getting weak and soft calls from officials, like he did plenty of times in the series against the Dallas Mavericks, while that kind of luck is going the other way against the Los Angeles Clippers?

Harden averaged 10.2 shots from the line per game this season. In the playoffs? He’s on 9.8, including 9 per game against the Clippers, making 94.4% of them. That’s a slight drop off from the regular season and the series against the Mavericks, but when you consider Harden got 15 trips to the line in game 2, the only win for the Rockets so far in a series they find themselves 1-3 behind, it hasn’t been easy for him doing what he does best.

Doc Rivers has told his players to stop fouling and avoid reaching in the paint. Why? Because Harden (he’s not the only one in the league who does it, but he does it more blatantly than others) throws his arms around trying to generate contact or simply fool the referees each time he has the opportunity. When it doesn’t work, it’s embarrassing.

But there’s more to the Rockets’ demise so far than Harden not getting to the line as much as he’d like. He’s averaging just 24.5 points per game, shooting 44.5% from the field. He’s shooting just 14.5 times a game. The Clippers, with Matt Barnes guarding him but making switches all the time to make him uncomfortable, are forcing him to put the ball in someone else’s hands, hopefully not Dwight Howard who has also been pushed out of offensive relevance.

And then there’s the defense. Harden, after “maturing” in the regular season and taking his role when he’s without the ball a little more seriously, is back to his confused puppy (bearded one, mind you) routine, when switches on picks and screens seem like the most complicated thing in the world for him, so he simply stops trying. Austin Rivers; yes, Austin Rivers (!!!); is making him look like a chump. It can’t get much lower than this.