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 drops 58 in comeback win and it seems almost routine. Much like his historic scoring streak — 32 games of 30+ points a night, a streak that just ended in the past week — James Harden had to do it. The Rockets were a below .500 team sitting at 13th in the West when he started the scoring streak, and when it was done the Rockets were a solid playoff team. He carried them to that level.
Thursday night the Rockets were down 21 points in the third quarter to the Miami Heat, and Houston was without key players — Eric Gordon, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert (plus P.J. Tucker got ejected in the third quarter) — so Harden had to do it. He took over. From the moment the Rockets trailed by 21 Harden scored 29 of his eventual 58 points, and dished out 5 of his 11 assists, to spark the Rockets comeback win, 121-118.
He’s done it so much we’ve become almost numb to nights like this from Harden. That was Harden’s sixth 50+ point game this season (no other player even has two). It feels like video game numbers that we don’t even take seriously. We should. He’s that good.
The other good news for the Rockets in this — they defended pretty well once way down. The Heat shot 57.7 percent overall and hit 11-of-16 threes to get to that 21 point lead, but 41.4 percent the rest of the way, and going 4-of-12 from three. If the Rockets are going to be a threat in the playoffs they to defend like that for 48 minutes.
2) Tobias Harris takes charge, leads 76ers to win — that they need because the Pacers keep winning. On a team that had issues getting its stars to fit in — Joel Embiid wanted to be around the basket more, Jimmy Butler wanted more pick-and-roll — Tobias Harris has been a refreshing change. He went from being the first option with the Clippers to being the third or fourth option with the Sixers without a complaint. Until this week, he hadn’t taken more than 15 shots in a game with Philadelphia. He got his touches in the offense and did what he could to get wins. He played very well but didn’t challenge the system.
Thursday night, Harris scored 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting overall and 5-of-7 from three to get Philadelphia its first win against Oklahoma City since 2008 (a 19-game losing streak, the last time the Sixers beat the Thunder now 76er GM Elton Brand was the starting center).
Butler had 20 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, and seems to be settling into a role initiating the offense.
Russell Westbrook had a triple-double for the Thunder with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. but he needed 24 shots to get there and was 1-of-9 from three, continuing his outside shooting woes this season. At points in this game Ben Simmons gave Westbrook the full playoff Rondo treatment, sagging 12 feet off of him and daring Westbrook to shoot a jumper (it’s a defensive strategy Simmons is very familiar with). Without MVP candidate Paul George (shoulder issues), Westbrook was dominating the offense like his 2017 MVP season, but he couldn’t do it alone against Philly.
The Sixers needed that win to keep up with the Pacers, who are the three seed in the East and are not fading away with Victor Oladipo out. Bojan Bogdanovic had 37 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to lead Indiana past Minnesota, keeping the Pacers half a game ahead of the Sixers for that three seed. Slumping Boston is the five seed, both the Pacers and Sixers would like to avoid the Celtics in the first round.
3) Jazz put it all together for a night, Donovan Mitchell takes over in win against Nuggets. This season the Jazz defense has looked dominant for stretches — especially with Rudy Gobert on the floor — but when it did the offense sputtered. When the offense has clicked, the defense has looked pedestrian. The Jazz have had precious few complete games and they need to find more of them entering the playoffs.
Ones like the 111-104 win against Denver Thursday. Utah defended well, Joe Ingles stepped up as a playmaker (if you can name the Jazz point guard, they were out injured), and when it mattered Donovan Mitchell just took over.
Gobert did his thing — the dangerous Nuggets offense was slowed in large part because they shot just 46.4 percent within eight feet of the basket thanks to Gobert’s presence. Derrick Favors was on Nikola Jokic for long stretches and defended him well. Joe Ingles was a pick-and-roll wizard.
That’s the kind of Jazz performance that should worry any team that plays them in the postseason. After the Bucks come to Salt Lake City Saturday the schedule gets soft for the Jazz. If they can get on a roll heading into the playoffs, well, we saw last year how dangerous they can be.