- Michael Reaves/Getty
- James Harden is on one of the best offensive runs in NBA history and has helped the Rockets climb in the Western Conference standings with an 11-1 streak.
- There should be concern with how much energy Harden is using only halfway through the season to buoy the Rockets.
- Harden was fatigued in the last two playoffs and is posting a higher usage rate than ever.
- With Chris Paul out because of an injury, the Rockets will need to get Harden some more help.
James Harden is on one of the hottest runs in NBA history.
Harden has scored 40 or more points in five straight games, joining Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant as the only players in NBA history to do so.
Over his past 10 games, Harden is averaging 40 points, shooting 42% from downtown, with 7 rebounds and 9 assists per game – and the Rockets have gone 9-1. Harden’s surge (most of which has been without Chris Paul) has helped the Rockets crawl out of an early hole and climb up to fourth in the Western Conference standings.
The latest and most impressive outburst of Harden’s streak came on Thursday against the Golden State Warriors, as he scored 44 points, with 10 rebounds and 15 assists, while hitting the game-winning three-pointer to help the Rockets overcome a 17-point deficit and beat their conference rivals.
Harden’s streak is so good that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wondered to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon if Harden is the greatest offensive player in the history of the NBA.
Much of the Rockets’ offense is the “James Harden Show,” particularly with Paul out. His 37% usage leads the NBA by six percentage points (among qualified players). In his last five games, his usage percentage is up to a whopping 43%.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, on Thursday, Harden basically was the Rockets offense.
James Harden created, assisted, or scored 80 of the Rocket's 135 points last night against the Warriors.
— Synergy Basketball (@SynergySST) January 4, 2019
All of which leads to one question: How long can Harden keep this up?
The Rockets’ offense leans into the talent of its two star guards, Harden and Paul. The team utilizes both players’ one-on-one and pick-and-roll skills and puts the ball in their hands to make plays. It is not the Warriors’ egalitarian style.
It’s been undeniably effective, but they’ve had problems in the postseason. In the last two seasons, Harden has hit a wall in the playoffs, losing the bounce and agility that makes him so effective. The Rockets have said as much.
“As the series went on, I just thought he ran out of steam. We asked so much of him, and he’s human,” Mike D’Antoni said after the San Antonio Spurs eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in 2017.
In last year’s seven-game Western Conference Finals loss to the Warriors, Harden appeared to also grow fatigued, particularly in games six and seven, when he had to run the show without Paul.
- Michael Reaves/Getty
That same concern must be rising now for the Rockets. The Rockets were 11-14 when Harden helped kick-start this 12-game run, in which they’ve gone 11-1. It’s taken a historic effort from Harden, but it hasn’t been easy – four of the Rockets’ 11 wins have come by five points or less.
It’s unclear when Paul will return from his hamstring injury, but the Rockets will need other players to step up and give Harden a break.
The problem for the Rockets, however, is that the deep Western Conference doesn’t allow for many off-nights. The Rockets have climbed within three-and-a-half games from first place; they’re also just four games ahead of the 11th-place Dallas Mavericks. Sit Harden for a night, or go on a three-game losing streak, and the Rockets might suddenly have ground to make up again.
Morey said recently that the Rockets will be “buyers” at the February trade deadline. Even when Paul comes back, the Rockets will need to get more support for Harden if they want him to be dropping 40-point nights in the playoffs.