Add another line item to James Harden’s MVP resume. The Houston Rockets star scored 45 points against the Indiana Pacers last night, and did it with extreme efficiency. The Beard was 12-for-18 from the field, and 14-for-15 from the charity strike. Watch him run up his box-score digits:
The Rockets won the game 110-98, to improve to 29-13 on the season, good for fourth place in the loaded Western Conference.
"I think the way we came out, that's the way we should come out every single game," Harden said after the game. "We focused on defense and offensively making it easy for each other. They didn't gain any ground on us because we kept being consistent with what we did.”
It’s refreshing to see Harden take on such a bold, team-leading role in his sixth season as a pro. Last year, he looked emotionally pained as he adjusted to the pressures of being the best player on a title-contending team, when Dwight Howard came to town and elevated the Rockets’ competitive status. Harden’s defense demonstrably suffered as he took on extra heat from the limelight.
But now he’s on the short list of players you’d want to build a team around, and his coach Kevin McHale has noticed the transformation. "He's having a special year," McHale said after the victory over the Pacers. "A couple of those shots he made, there's nothing a defender can do.”
At 26.6 points per game, Harden is currently leading the league in scoring. More importantly, he’s become a member of some of the best defensive lineups in basketball — the Rockets have the second-most efficient defense in the sport, and they’re markedly more scary because of it.
Catch Harden and Houston as they look for revenge against the league-leading Golden State Warriors this Wednesday, at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN. Steph Curry and Co. dismantled the Rockets, 131-106, this past Saturday.
— John Wilmes