Rockets James Harden man on a mission

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 3: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors on January 3, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

When the Houston Rockets got off to a slow start to begin the 2018-19 season (11-9 through 21 games) many fans quickly forgot the previous season. 

They forgot that the Rockets had a 65-win season last year, the NBA’s best. They forgot they took the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, despite losing star point guard Chris Paul in game 5. Most importantly, they forgot that James Harden was the league MVP. Harden’s play during the month of December, however, should serve as a reminder of his greatness on the court.

The Rockets were 11-4 during the month of December and have moved from the 14thslot in the Western Conference to fifth and are in first place in the Southwest division. The reason for the turnaround is the play of Harden, who was recently named NBA Western Conference Player of the Month. Playing without backcourt mate Chris Paul, Harden has literally put the Rockets on his back and willed them back into contention.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni is Harden’s No. 1 advocate. 

“He’s just been really good,” D’Antoni said. “He does things that are just phenomenal. He’s unguardable right now. Somebody said recently it’s bad he has to get 40 every night for us to win, but so what. He can get 40 every night so that’s a good thing.”.

Harden’s confidence is sky high, but he is quick to defer to his teammates for the team’s success during the month of December. 

 “My confidence is through the roof, but it’s been like that,” Harden said. “[I give] credit to my teammates for making big shots and making big time defensive plays. It’s been a total team effort. We’re doing everything necessary for us to win. I just have to go out there and do my part at the highest level.

“We’re guarding as a team,” Harden continued. “We’re helping each other out offensively. We’re making shots. We’re moving and we have to continue to do that. Even when we’re not making shots, we still have to be aggressive offensively. We still have to take our shots and have that confidence. More time than not good things will happen. We’re doing everything necessary for us to win.”

Harden downplays his offensive productivity as business as usual. 

“For me nothing changes. I take my shots, I drive to the basket, I take my step-backs with confidence and live with the results,” he said.

Harden’s December numbers

  • Averaged 36.4 points, 7.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.80 steals.  
  • Scored 40-plus points six times in the month, including each of the final four games, tying for the longest streak by any player since a five-game span by Kobe Bryant in March of 2007.  
  • Averaged 40.8 points over the final 10 games of the month
  • Joined Bryant and Michael Jordan as the only players over the past 30 seasons to have scored at least 400 points over a span of 10 games. (Source: Elias Sports Bureau)
  • Recorded at least 35 points and five assists in each of the last eight games of December, the longest streak in NBA history. 
  • Had five double-doubles for the month, including three triple-doubles.  
  • Posted NBA record fourth career 50-point triple double against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 13 and closed out the year with 10th career 40-point triple-double vs. Memphis on New Year’s Eve.