The Houston Rockets—who this season have been dead, not dead, and dead again—are decidedly no longer dead. Since getting spit-roasted by Luka Dončić, Houston has gone 10-1, with the lone loss a two-point squeaker in Miami. Chris Paul tweaked his hamstring, again, in that game, yet it hasn’t mattered pretty much at all, since reigning MVP James Harden has taken over every single game he’s played in over the last three or so weeks.
During the 11-game stretch in question here, Harden has averaged 39.7 points and 8.5 assists, taken 13 free throws per game, and posted a 50-point triple double and a 43-point triple double. Dude has been an absolute flamethrower. Harden has made up for Paul’s absence by bumping his usage percentage to almost 40, and he’s been doing it without any efficiency dip. Harden’s run of eight-straight 35-point, five-assist games is the longest in NBA history. He has posted four-straight 40-point games, the most recent one a ridiculous New Year’s Eve 43-point, 13-assist, 11-board game against the Grizzlies in which he shot 27 goddamn free throws.
Harden’s acutely grating foul-drawing habit aside, his handle allows him to get whatever he wants in the top-of-key pick-and-roll, whether that’s a three for him, one for a teammate, or an open dunk for the roll man (almost always Clint Capela). It’s been like this for years, of course, but never has his team needed to rely on him to this degree, thus the historic numbers.
The Western Conference is as competitive as it’s ever been, with 10 clubs .500 or better and 14 teams all in legit contention for playoff spots (for now, anyway). Houston looked, to a degree, fucked, way back on Halloween when they were 1-5, all yelling at each other, and in the process of being dragged to the bottom of the ocean by one very lumbering Carmelo Anthony. Paul’s injury seemed to spell doom for the team, as their depth issues have been painfully obvious all year. The defense has regressed hard, and Trevor Ariza is not, as they say, walking through that door. Instead, they’ve vaulted to fourth in the West, only two games behind the Thunder, with the league’s second-most efficient offense.
All of which is to say, this particular iteration of the Rockets only works when Harden goes nuts and tries to win games more or less by himself. As ESPN’s Andre Snellings wrote, Harden has the third-most drives in the NBA (607) and is creating the third-most points on those drives (1.107). When he’s in the pick-and-roll, he’s creating 0.991 points per play on a ridiculous 1,266 opportunities. That’s both a higher volume and a higher efficiency than Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook.
He is doing everything all the time and it’s working. I can’t wait to see him try this shit against the Warriors tomorrow night.