The Houston Rockets have risen from the ashes of the bottom of the conference and in the span of 10 days have inserted themselves into the middle of the mosh pit that is the Western Conference playoff picture.
Albeit, it is only December, but in the wild West only 7.5 games separate the number one seed from the fourteenth place team. A little over a week ago, the Rockets seemed to be in danger of falling behind even further as they had just lost a few games to very bad teams (Washington and Cleveland to list a few).
The Rockets were set to start a tough stretch which included many Western Conference teams that were all above Houston in the standings, and some that had already defeated Houston earlier in the season. Needless to say, Houston was in desperate need of wins.
The Rockets have gone 6-1 during this stretch and were very capable of winning the one game they lost in Miami, which was on the second night of a back to back, saw Chris Paul injure his hamstring, saw James Harden get his head banged up, and came down to one shot from Eric Gordon that just did not drop at the buzzer.
Now the Rockets are not out of the woods yet as they are barely halfway through this stretch and still have to play teams like Oklahoma City, Boston, and Golden State over the next couple of weeks. But a huge reason behind the Rockets magnificent resurgence in the past week is none other than James Harden.
The reigning league MVP has been on a tear since the game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Since that night, Harden has scored 30+ points in six consecutive games, has finished with two triple-doubles, has scored over 40 points twice, and has scored 50 points once. In four out of those six games, James Harden has finished with at least 10 assists, and in every game since Houston beat Los Angeles, Harden has finished with at least two steals.
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To put Harden’s numbers into perspective, he has scored a total of 238 points since December 13th, the second player behind him is Paul George who has only scored 175 points. That is a 63 point difference! Harden has made the most three-point field goals in this stretch at 30, ahead of Buddy Hield who has 26. James Harden has been a +48 when on the floor for Houston and has produced 57 total assists which is tied with Russell Westbrook for most since December 13th!
As for the recent controversy about James Harden and his free throw attempts, yes he has attempted 84 free throws and made 76 (90.5%) which leads the NBA by a wide margin, but when the 76 points are factored to Harden’s total points since December 13th, Harden’s points from the line only factor for about 32% of his total points scored.
To provide a comparison, LeBron James has scored a total of 124 points since December 13th and has had 27 of those points come from free throws. LeBron’s free throws account for only about 22% of his total points, but LeBron James has attempted 46 free throws (which is third in the league since December 13th). If Lebron were to be shooting at a 90% clip like James Harden, LeBron James would have about 41 points come from the charity stripe which would result in LeBron James having about 30% of his total points come from the free throw line, which is right in the same neighborhood as James Harden.
Regardless of anyone’s opinion of James Harden, numbers never lie, and since December 13th, no other player has been lighting up the league and has been as important for their team as Harden. He deserves to be in the MVP conversation once again because quite frankly without Harden, the Rockets would be sharing the basement of the Western Conference with the Pheonix Suns.