The Beard keeps going off for the Houston Rockets, propelling them to more and more wins in the tough Western Conference.
New Year. Same James Harden. Everyone’s New Years resolution should be centered around self-improvement and betterment. For Harden, this continues to be his motivation as he sets his eyes on winning the MVP for a second-straight year. According the Kelly Iko of The Athletic, the star of the Houston Rockets expressed how he felt about his desire to go back-to-back:
James Harden on the MVP: I need it, I need it for sure, and I’m gonna get it
— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) January 2, 2019
James picked up where he left off in 2018 as the Rockets continue their hot streak thanks to a sizzling Harden who has put up ridiculous numbers especially in the last 11 games. For the majority of the season, Harden has been left out of the discussion for the MVP race due to the Rockets slow start of the season.
NBA.com writer Sekou Smith, who posts a weekly updated NBA MVP race of candidates worthy of the award, had Harden listed as No. 5 on December 28th, 2018. But thanks to Harden’s past 3 games, he saw himself bump the four guys above him in today’s weekly KIA MVP Ladder race. That’s right, Harden found himself as No. 1 and rightfully so.
Check out his ranking here.
Below, we take a look at the list of MVP worthy opponents Harden faced recently and how his performances during this stretch has led him to being the frontrunner for the award, starting with LA and OKC.
Next: The Lakers and Thunder
December 13, 2018 Los Angeles Lakers @ Houston Rockets
Final: 126-111 W
This was the game 1 of Harden’s stretch of 30+ point games. Harden ended up posting an insane 50/11/10 split against an MVP candidate in LeBron James who finished the game with 29/4/5.
This win gave the Rockets a 2-0 record this season against the Lakers and with two more match-ups left remaining this season, Houston placed themselves in a great position to take the series advantage which can be critical later this season as the west is tight in seeding.
December 25, 2018 Oklahoma City Thunder @ Houston Rockets
Final: 113-109 W
A Christmas Day present was delivered to Rockets fans as St. James carried a short-handed Houston team against a tough OKC match-up. Paul George, who has joined the chatter of MVP conversations, posted an impressive stat-line of 28 pts/14 rebs but fell short of a win against Harden who had another monster performance with 41/7/6 split.
James Harden’s name in the MVP race began to grow louder with this win as it came without the services of their second best player, Chris Paul, who went down with a strained hamstring 5 days before in a loss to the Miami Heat.
Next: The Celtics and Pelicans
December 27, 2018 Boston Celtics @ Houston Rockets
Final: 127-113 W
While his name hasn’t consistently been mentioned as an MVP candidate this season, the Celtics star PG, Kyrie Irving, paid Houston a visit and impressed fans with his dazzling ball handling skills. For a short stretch in the game, Harden and Kyrie went at it 1 on 1 and the audience at Toyota Center got their money’s worth.
However, Harden put on a clinic after going cold in the second quarter and the game became out of reach for the Celtics. Harden out-dueled Kyrie and it wasn’t even close. He finished with 45 / 6 while Kyrie posted 23 /11 and the Rockets were on a 3 game winning streak.
December 29, 2018 Houston Rockets @ New Orleans Pelicans
Final: 108-104 W
This game came at a perfect time given the narrative that was surrounding James Harden. Prior to this match-up, Harden was fed to the public as a player benefiting from a Mike D’Antoni system and wasn’t a top 5 player according to Max Kellerman, a sports analyst who is featured on a popular show on ESPN called First Take. Kellerman confidently stated Harden was behind Anthony Davis in terms of skill level along with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In addition, he criticized Harden for his post-season performances and how this is holding him back from being considered in the conversation. Harden wasn’t fazed. Houston defeated New Orleans thanks to his performance of 41/9/6 while AD fell short of victory with a 22/11 game. Houston won 4 in a row and Harden was sizzling at this point: 9th straight 30+ point game for the Beard.
Next: Overtime heroics against the Warriors
January 3, 2019 Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors
Final (OT): 135-134 W
The game seen around the country. Houston was heading into Oakland yesterday night as an overwhelming underdog vs. the reigning champions, the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets defeated the Warriors earlier this season, but when they were without Steph Curry.
This time around, the Warriors had a healthy roster that won them 2 straight titles thanks to the addition of Kevin Durant. We all know the bitterness behind the Warriors as Rockets fans. In similar circumstances that the team faced in May last year, the Rockets were without Chris Paul in this game that likely cost them a championship after losing two straight games in the Western Conference Finals.
In addition to him being out yesterday, the Rockets were without Eric Gordon due to a knee injury. It almost seemed impossible for the team to pull of a victory, and the first half played out as such. The Rockets found themselves in a hole after trailing 53-70 at halftime. The largest deficit was at 20 points in the 3rd quarter, but the Rockets just wouldn’t go away.
Harden put on an epic performance that included big time shots that left the everyone in awe. In OT, Houston was down by 2 after a questionable no-call that showed Kevin Durant saving a loose ball in which both of his feet were out-of-bounds that resulted in a Steph Curry jump-shot.
Can someone explain to me how the refs missed this? Are you serious? The NBA should honestly fine the baseline ref for missing this. Worst missed call I’ve seen this season. https://t.co/K3MJwd36Sq
— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) January 4, 2019
The Rockets trailed by 2 and had a chance for the final shot. Harden sunk a game winning 3 pointer with Klay and Draymond in his face giving him no room to breathe. Fans at Oracle Arena were left speechless as their team blew what should have been a blowout victory for them.
Harden finished the night with 44/15/10 and the Rockets closed the gap in the standings as they currently sit in 4th place. Durant, Steph and Klay combined for 87 points with none of them shooting under 43% from the field.
Wrapping It Up…..
Harden’s epic run is still in progress with 11 straight games of 30+ points, and more impressively with 5 straight 40+ point games. The Kia MVP Ladder by NBA.com has him listed currently as number 1 after being number 5 last week. The Rockets have won a season high 6 games in a row and their next 3 games aren’t easy: 1/5 @ POR, 1/7 vs DEN, and 1/9 vs MIL
However, if there is anything that these recent stretch of games have taught us, Harden is on a legitimate quest and there isn’t anything the league can do about it.