Three Things to Know: James Harden out weeks, Rockets’ Chris Paul’s now

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) James Harden out for a few weeks with a hamstring strain, Rocket now become Chris Paul’s team.
When reports started to come out of the Rockets’ locker room New Year’s Eve that James Harden was limping around with his hamstring injury, you knew it was bad. Houston announced Harden has a Grade 2 hamstring strain (which means a partial tear of the muscle), and while he will be re-evaluated in two weeks the reality is he is likely out a month or so (based on history with this injury). Hamstring injuries are not ones where it’s just matter of playing through the pain, the muscle needs to be allowed to heal completely or it is very easy to re-injure.

It’s a blow because Harden has been playing at an MVP level this season — 32.3 points per game, 9.1 assists, and shooting 39 percent from three (Harden’s injury appears to put LeBron James in the MVP lead at the halfway point of the season). The Rockets have been the second-best team in the NBA this season, and it’s because of Harden (and an improved defense).

Houston is Chris Paul’s team now — and the Rocket offense has been 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with CP3 on the court this season. However, most of Paul’s minutes are with Harden on the court too, no lineup has played more than 22 minutes with Paul but without Harden (via NBA.com). Houston’s defense, which has slipped of late (26th in the NBA over the last 10 games allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions) needs to be rejuvenated fast. The Houston offense should be fine when CP3 is on the court running the show, but Mike D’Antoni does not like to go deep into his bench and now needs to. He’s going to have to stagger Paul and Eric Gordon to keep more playmaking on the floor at all times, and guys such as Bobby Brown or just acquired Gerald Green are going to need to get run then step up.

Elite teams survive injuries, and the Rockets are an elite team, but they are going to take a step back without Harden, no doubt. Also, this Thursday’s showdown with Golden State lost a little luster.

2) DeMar DeRozan is a beast, drops Raptors-record 52 on Bucks. DeMar DeRozan still takes a lot of midrange jumpers — 61 percent of his shot attempts this season — but that number is down (from 71 percent last season) and he has replaced those with more threes and more shots at the rim.

We saw that in action Monday night when DeRozan dropped 52 on the Bucks — he was 5-of-9 from three, plus he attacked the rim more and shot 6-of-7 inside the restricted area (plus got to the line six times).

This game also showed why Toronto can be a threat to Boston and Cleveland in the playoffs because of the shifts in their offense. DeRozan had 21 points in the first quarter, so the Bucks adjusted their defense to focus on him, and that’s when he switched into a playmaker mode and set up teammates. He was moving the ball, and the Raptors kept on scoring. Combine that with an improved defense this season and this may be the best Raptors team we have seen in this recent run. They are a real threat to make the conference finals.

3) C.J. McCollum takes over the second half, leads Trail Blazers past the Bulls with 32 points. With Damian Lillard out injured (he is expected to return Tuesday in Cleveland) it has been the McCollum show for the Blazers.

Monday night he had 25 of his points after halftime, and he scored Portland’s final six points in overtime, to help his team steal a win from a hot Bulls team. He got some help, Al-Farouq Aminu had a couple of key threes late in regulation, but it was a big night from McCollum that got Portland a quality road win.