James Harden

Things were going well without James Harden exploding, but the Houston Rockets need him to play like the best player in the league from time to time, and got exactly that in a 130-128 win over the Dallas Mavericks in game 3 to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series.

Harden scored 42 points on 15-of-24 from the field to go with 7 rebounds and 5 assists, a playoff career scoring high for him. Dwight Howard didn’t join him on the scoring spree, but did grab 26 rebounds (tying the franchise record), including 11 offensive rebounds as the Rockets overcame a fantastic shooting night from Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, scoring 34 points apiece.

The Rockets, maybe finally finding the right combination to take them through a postseason series, something that hasn’t happened since 2009 and is going to be a first for Harden since joining the team, almost lost a 10-point lead in the final minutes as the Mavs ate away at their lead. In the end, Monta Ellis missed a 20-foot jumper to try and beat the buzzer after his basket with 8 seconds to go narrowed things to just one point. Corey Brewer didn’t miss from the line.

Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler

The second leading scorer for the Rockets in this game was Josh Smith who is having a fantastic series in what has been something of a career saving move to sign with the Rockets. He was released by the Pistons because it seemed that he was ruining things from inside. He is averaging 14.7 points per game in this series and is a vital part of what now looks like a viable title challenge.

Besides Smith, there was 15 from Corey Brewer, 13 from Trevor Ariza and 12 from Terrence Jones. But even though this wasn’t one of those games in which Harden defers to his sidekicks and role players, they were a lot of help in any case. Howard, despite not scoring a lot of points (averaging 17.3 for the series), was once again too much for Tyson Chandler to handle.

The Mavericks are playing without an injured Chandler Parsons. They’ve also chucked Rajon Rondo, excusing his dismissal by saying he has a back injury, but the truth is that they’re simply tired of his antics, which we will probably learn more about when the season ends. Raymond Felton started in his place, but he’s a guy who shouldn’t be in the NBA anymore. Both J.J. Barea and Devin Harris weren’t half bad, but their defense could have used a little bit of touch up. After making two big trades since the end of last season, the Mavs are exactly in the same spot, and probably worse off for it.

It’ll be the fourth straight season without winning a playoff series for the Mavs since winning the NBA title. It’ll be time to do some serious thinking when this series is over. No one comes back from 0-3 down, although the Mavs were more than close in this one, giving them some hope they can at least win once to avoid the humiliating sweep. The Rockets don’t mind getting caught up in the fast pace and matching the Mavericks shot for shot. They have the firepower, they have the dominant big man to rule the paint, and they have the best player on the floor most of the time. There’s nothing to fear.

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