When James Harden gets the combination of feeling good about his shot and referees blowing their whistle on every contact he makes on his way to the basket, he’s virtually unstoppable.
Harden scored 44 points to make it 89 in both games against the Indiana Pacers this season, leading the Houston Rockets to a 110-100 victory, handing the Pacers their sixth consecutive loss. This drives Indiana further away from a playoff spot (now one game behind 8th place in the East) while the Rockets open up a two game lead over the sinking Trail Blazers in their battle to finish at least third out West.
Harden got 21 of his points from the line (making 21-of-22), adding 10-of-21 from the field, adding 7 assists. While Harden wasn’t always at his most accurate, this wasn’t one of those games in which him shooting more was actually harmful to his team; that hardly happens anymore. Harden played 43 minutes in what felt like a player trying to prove his MVP worthiness.
Besides Harden, the Rockets got 18 points out of Josh Smith in one of his finer performances over the last few weeks, 17 points from Donatas Motiejunas proving to be one of the more difficult big men in the league to stop thanks to his arsenal of moves down low and also 11 from Corey Brewer. The Rockets followed the 3-point or layup plan perfectly, hitting 13-of-24 from beyond the arc and going to the line 37 times, missing only twice.
It’s just a matter of me being crafty, getting there, making plays and just doing what I do every single night. As long as I’m aggressive and in attack mode, good things are going to happen. You’d expect the Pacers to whine and complain about the foul calls, but Frank Vogel was probably more disappointed in his defense failing to slow Harden down. That’s one of the biggest challenges in guarding a guy like that, is trying to do it without fouling. He’s got all the tricks to pick up fouls, and we’ve got young defenders on him and we didn’t do a good job there.
The Pacers seem to be slipping the more talk there is about Paul George coming back or not, but there’s more to it than simply being in the focus of the media. A team with very little creativity and playmaking ability on offense is always going to struggle, especially when it relies on a very depleted depth chart and defense that might be crucial, but will never go very far without more on the offensive side of the ball.
The Rockets are going to get Dwight Howard back soon. James Harden, with a lot of help from what Daryl Morey has put around him and the improved coaching ability of Kevin McHale who has come a long way since his first season with Houston, has kept the ship afloat and even more than that. With Howard on the floor, the Rockets are more than just possible contenders in the West. No excuses can be made if they fail to get past the first round this time.