James Harden

The Houston Rockets are doing well recently, bouncing back from a rough start to win five of their last six games. James Harden is still doing whatever he wants to on the court, while the defense, for both him and the team, is nowhere to be found. If it works, they’re not trying to interfere too much.

Once the Rockets felt like a team with a plan, but now it’s just a player with a team and a general manager who likes to be called ‘statistical genius’ for coming up with the plan that’s about shooting 3-pointers and layups, nothing more. Can it work besides making the basketball look fun? It hasn’t looked that way, even when Harden is at his best. With Dwight Howard less and less consistent and especially dominating defensively, the expiration date on this project might be coming to an end.

Not that the Rockets aren’t trying. Their 120-113 win over the Sacramento Kings brings them to one win from .500. Yes, things got that bad until two weeks ago, and getting Patrick Beverley in the lineup, as imperfect as he might be as a player, helps Harden feel more comfortable with slacking on defense and ignoring the point guard next to him. Despite getting a nice payday, Beverley is simply happy to be in the league, and doesn’t mind not touching the ball for long stretches.

Harden scored 31 points in the win against Sacramento while Howard added 22 in a weird up & down season for previously the best center in the NBA. Moving Terrence Jones to the bench might mean the Rockets are once again doing that weird two-centers thing, but it’s working, despite Clint Capela being very limited and limiting to the team when he’s on the floor. The Rockets have found some sort of formula that works, and aren’t trying to tweak it too much.

They’re only 17th this season in offensive efficiency (101.2 points per 100 possessions) but moving on up with five consecutive games of over 100 points. Defensively is where the big problem is, giving up 106 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the NBA. Their wins recently haven’t been against the upper echelon of the league, and they still can’t seem to really stop anyone in an impressive way. Harden and the right team around him is good enough to make the playoffs despite their start, but more than that? Not with one of the worst defensive units in the league.

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