Houston Rockets Schedule May Be Key To Securing James Harden MVP
By Mitchell Kay
Houston Rockets Schedule May Be Key To Securing James Harden MVP
James Harden once again led the attack in Blake Griffin’s return, proving to be too much for Doc River’s and the Clippers to handle. This victory did a few things for Harden in terms of the MVP race and coming off two consecutive loses.
Harden has scored 30 or more points 28 times this season. The beard was back at it as he has been a staple of consistency for Houston since October.. He lit up the lamp for 34 points, spoiling Blake Griffin’s return and helping give Houston to a much needed victory.
Harden always seems to erupt on the scoreboard when his number is called, one of the reasons why many have him at the top of the MVP ladder thus far. However, the Rockets back court magician has competition in this race and his fate may be decided by how strong he finishes.
It has been James Harden who has weathered the storm all year long in Houston, as the team is still without Dwight Howard yet. Despite missing their star center, the Rockets continue to not just stay afloat, but to win in the West. A place it would be very easy to sink without your premier big man.
At this point some feel Harden just needs to close out the season in the same manner he has carried himself since opening tip-of. The beard has given the Rockets a mix of scoring, ball facilitation, rebounding, defense, and leadership. Harden definitely fits the criteria for the player most valuable to his team. In seasons past we have seen players fall short that others thought to be a lock to win. This is why it is important that Harden finish strong.
Strength of Schedule may the final piece to the puzzle in Harden getting the nod when it is time. The Rockets have 16 games remaining on the regular season docket. Eight of the Rockets final 16 are being played on home turf, while the other eight are taking place on the road. In total, seven of the sixteen teams the Rockets face are currently at or below .500. Most of these match-ups will allow Harden to feast on opposing defenses.
After the Clippers win which was a nationally televised game, the Rockets head to Houston for a three game stretch against favorable opponents . This is a good way for Harden to make an impact and return fire at Russell Westbrook who has come on strong as of late. Let’s examine the next three game home stretch and how it will help Harden’s case.
- Orlando (21-47) The Magic are well below .500 and are near the basement in scoring. The Magic also are 7th from the bottom with opponent scoring. Orlando doesn’t have anyone defensively that can really contain Harden. Harden could post huge numbers en route to a Rockets Victory. Home court is key here.
- Denver (26-41) The Nuggets are 5th from the bottom in opponent scoring but have been playing better of late. They have had a coaching change which has helped, but it is still a decent match-up for Harden. If Harden draws Chandler, it won’t be an easy outing. Harden relishes in the tough 1 on 1 competition.
- The next game is against the Suns. It’s no secret that Phoenix is a run and gun team and very poor defensively. They give up more points than anyone on defense. They can score though and have just got themselves over .500. Harden will likely be stuffing the stat sheet in this one.
Harden has three games to make some noise before hitting the road for two. Their are going to be some challenges over the course of the next sixteen games. The games against top teams will also allow Harden to showcase his skills in hostile territory. A home and away against the Spurs in April will be a good opportunity for Harden to compete against top defenders. Especially if he draws Kawhi Leonard. From now and till then, the Rockets will have a good balance of opponents on their schedule.
Notable performances against top defenders/defenses are often times more important than posting big stat lines against mediocre competition. The reason this is favoring Harden is because it consists of a really good mix of both. Directly following the two games against San Antonio in April, the Rockets draw the Pelicans who will likely still be fighting for a playoff spot. You can bet James Harden will be in full form that night against a motivated Pelicans team.
Depending on where they finish may determine how many minutes Harden plays in the final two contests. They close out the season against Charlotte and Utah. Charlotte may have their playoff fate decided by this time. Either way, it is a good match-up for Harden if he plays. The final game will take place at home against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are currently 29-36 on the season and 13-20 on the road.
The Rockets final stretch of games looks like it may just be exactly what Harden needed to secure his first MVP. Many intangibles also come into play when considering Harden for the trophy. At the shooting guard position he is posting a ridiculous 7.1 assists per game and is outright the best passer in the league at his position. Harden often knocked for his individual defense has transformed that area of his game: 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals really help make a case that his defensive game has undergone serious changes for the better. His on-ball defense has seen the most growth of any area when breaking down his individual game.
Lastly, where the Rockets finish in the Western Conference standings will also help Harden’s chances. The team is currently tied with Portland as both teams have 44 wins a piece. As stated earlier Houston has 16 games remaining, Portland on the other hand has 2 games in hand as they still have 18 games left to play. That will make things interesting down the stretch for Houston and where they may finish.
Houston is currently two games behind Memphis for 2nd place in the West. Memphis has a really tough schedule on paper. Things aren’t that simple for Houston though as they themselves have their own group of teams breathing down there neck. The Spurs, Clippers, and Maverick are all closing in on everybody except Golden Sate.
The higher in the standings Houston finishes, the better it looks for Harden in the MVP race. This is a win-win for Harden. Even if Houston finish 4th, what Harden has done over this extended period of time without superman is incredible. He also has a great group of teammates to thank for that.
The next 16 games could help Harden seize the coveted trophy recognizing once special player for individual greatness on the season. Harden has come a long way from being a bench player in Oklahoma City. He chose to spread his wings and it has paid off so far. Harden is the face of the Franchise, owns a max contract, and is looking at being revered as the best player in the game right now. Chants of MVP will bellow down through the Toyota Center until the regular season closes. Anyway you want to slice it, you simply cant deny it, he got game folks.
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