James Harden’s MVP candidacy is not so much about 27.2 points and seven assists a game as much as this: His aggressive play and high-scoring games have kept the Rockets at the three seed in the West and winning two-thirds of their games despite Dwight Howard being on the sidelines. Injuries have unsettled the Rockets all season, but Harden has been the rock keeping them an elite team.
Now Howard is about to return.
What does that mean for Harden’s style of play, where he dominates the ball and plays off the pick-and-roll. Does he need to give up touches now to keep Howard happy in the post?
Howard told Harden not to change, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.
“He said, ‘I’ll be returning soon, but I don’t want you to change your game,” Harden told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “He said, ‘I don’t want you to do anything different. Just go out there and do what you do, and do it at a high level every single night.’ He said, ‘I’ll adjust to you,’ and that right there gave me confidence to just play, and play my game and not worry about anything else. Once you hear that from your other leader, then you know you can just go out there and play the way that I’ve been playing.
“I definitely needed to hear that, and he told it to me. So right there that gave me all the confidence in the world, not to try to force it to get him into a rhythm or try to do anything forceful. I can just play my game. Him telling me that just gave me the green light to just go out there and just be the James Harden that I’ve been being all season.”
Harden and Howard talked at a meeting with veteran guard Jason Terry in attendance about a month ago in Denver, according to the report.
Howard may return Wednesday night against the Pelicans. The Rockets need some help up front; Terrence Jones had been playing well but is out with partially collapsed lung. Howard should improve the Rockets’ defense, giving them more rim protection inside.
Harden is going to have to get Howard some touches, but if Howard is true to his work and does try to play off Harden the Rockets will be better for it. I may need to see that to believe it. And Harden admits in the piece it will take a little time for them to find a real comfort level.
However, Harden feels he has the green light, that’s good for the Rockets and dangerous for the rest of the league — when those two have been on the court together this season the Rockets are +9.8 per 48 minutes.
Maybe the Rockets will hit their stride at the right time.