Harden came one point shy of matching his career high and franchise record on a night he made eight 3-pointers and 20 free throws. He watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench with Houston up 127-73 at the end of three.
“What he’s doing has not been seen,” teammate Austin Rivers said. “My man had 60 and didn’t play the fourth quarter. Name another player who could do that right now.”
It was Harden’s fourth career 60-point game, tying him with Michael Jordan for third-most in NBA history, trailing only Kobe Bryant (six) and Wilt Chamberlain (32). Harden is the only active player who has scored 60 points more than once.
But as usual he wasn’t interested in talking about reaching 60 points while spending an entire quarter on the bench.
“Nope,” he said before walking off and repeating the word two more times.
The Rockets were missing starters Clint Capela and Danuel House because of illnesses, but still had no trouble handling an Atlanta team that hasn’t won since Nov. 12 thanks to Harden’s huge night.
“We try to do what we have to do against James, which is throw a lot of bodies at him,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Try and put him under duress. He just didn’t feel us.”
Atlanta was never really in this one and was down by 20 points or more for most of the game. The flat effort came a night after the Hawks fell by one point in overtime to the Pacers in a game where Trae Young tied career highs with 49 points and eight 3-pointers.
Young led the Hawks with 37 points and had five 3-pointers, but it wasn’t nearly enough to offset Harden’s game.
The Rockets raced out to a 14-5 lead and had stretched their advantage to 81-52 by halftime behind 31 points from Harden for their third 80-point first half in franchise history.
As good as Harden was in the first two quarters, it was nothing compared to how he dominated in the third. Houston was up 83-56 early in the period before he scored all of the team’s points in an 18-3 run that made it 101-59 with 7 minutes left in the period.
Harden made three 3-pointers and was fouled on 3-point attempts three other times in that stretch. He had eight assists, three rebounds, three steals and blocked a shot to go along with his 60-point effort.
After the third quarter, Harden was sitting on the bench with a towel draped over his shoulders when he was shown on the video board with a note that said he was two points shy of setting his career high. Harden looked at the screen, read the note and pointed at it while opening his mouth wide in fake shock as if to say: “I was so close,” before smiling broadly.
“Yeah I was playing with the fans a little, but honestly I didn’t know,” he said. “But we played a really good game those first three quarters so it was an opportunity for other guys to play minutes that they’ve earned.”
There were a few half-hearted chants of: “Harden! Harden!” midway through the fourth quarter from a few fans who hoped to see Harden come back in to make Rockets history. But D’Antoni kept the bearded superstar on the bench with the game well in hand.
2018 Draft proposal rumored on Suns’ table: Draft Luka Doncic, go after free agent Clint Capela
When the Phoenix Suns hired Igor Kokoskov as head coach back in May 2018 — the first European born head coach of an NBA team — there was an assumption in many corners of the league this meant Phoenix wanted to draft Luka Doncic (Kokoskov was Doncic’s national team coach). When the lottery ping-pong balls gifted Phoenix the No. 1 pick, they could then land whoever they wanted.
That was not Doncic. Reportedly at the urging of owner Robert Sarver (who wanted the Arizona guy), the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton first overall.
Friday night Doncic dropped 42 on Phoenix, and considering Doncic’s MVP-level start to his second season, there is some buyer’s remorse in Phoenix (Ayton remains out following a PED suspension). Later Friday, Marc Stein the New York Times Tweeted this:
One plan proposed to the Suns in the build-up to the 2018 draft: Select Doncic at No. 1 and make a free-agent run at Clint Capela to fill the C void … especially since then-coach Igor Kokoskov had been Luka's national-team coach. Hard to resist what-ifs in the desert tonight https://t.co/BxwuRrS7Av
Getting Clint Capela would not have been that easy. While he was a free agent and could have gone anywhere, the Rockets really liked him and may have gone higher than the 5-years, $90 million they signed him for. Plus, the Rockets were a winning team with James Harden, which is an excellent reason to stay. That said, the Suns could have made a run at him.
Sarver wants desperately for the Suns to have their own superstar, so much so he put goats in the GM’s office to remind him (at least they didn’t poop much). Would the Suns have drafted Doncic over Ayton if Sarver hadn’t taken a side? We will never know. Ayton was a highly ranked prospect seen as an offensive force who could play the modern game (and he averaged an impressive 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a game as a rookie, while his defense was a challenge it did improve so there is real hope for the future).
Whatever happens, it looks like there are going to be some “how did you miss” questions in Phoenix and Sacramento (and, maybe, Atlanta, although Trae Young mitigates things some) for a long time.
NBA Power Rankings: Red-hot Boston climbs up into top spot
Three weeks and around 10 games into the season, we are starting to figure out what is real and what is not — and how injuries are going to blow all that up. A lot of key players around the league are out now, but go ahead and blame Kawhi Leonard for sitting out and trying to avoid getting injured.
1. Celtics (8-1, Last week No. 6). Winners of eight in a row, making the timing of Gordon Hayward’s fractured hand feels like a punch to the gut. He was looking close to his vintage, All-Star self again averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds and dishing out 4.1 assists. Hayward is in three of the Celtics’ four most-used lineups, and when paired with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown the Celtics are +27.2 points per 100 possessions. The silver lining is he is only out six weeks (at a point in the season it doesn’t crush them).
According to the Celtics: Gordon Hayward has been diagnosed with a left hand fracture. Here's the play where it happened: pic.twitter.com/Vwd3FpJsfS
2. Lakers (8-2, LW 1). Did anyone really say LeBron James was washed? No doubt his game took a step back last season — his groin injury playing a big role in that — but washed? He was third-team All-NBA. LeBron apparently talked himself into using a straw man argument for motivation — and it worked. He is playing at an MVP level so far this season. He seems much more comfortable pushing the ball in transition this season and attacking the rim. When asked how he has held off Father Time, LeBron had a great answer: “Wine. It ages well.”
3. Bucks (7-3, LW 4). He may not have taken a step forward this season as hoped, but Khris Middleton was playing like his All-Star self of a season ago — 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three, finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense was 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. Now they are without him for 3-4 weeks with a thigh bruise. The Bucks have won 4-of-6 in a road heavy portion of the schedule, and after being at home against the Bulls on Thursday it’s back out on the road for three more.
4. Clippers (7-3, LW 3). When Kawhi Leonard is on the court this season, Los Angeles is +24.3 points per 100 possessions better. That is exactly why he is getting load management nights now — to prevent and avoid injuries down the line, so he can be on the court in the games that matter. Starting Thursday he will be joined by Paul George, who is expected to make his debut on the road in New Orleans. Then we get to witness the fire power of this fully armed and operational Death Star.
5. Heat (7-3, LW 7). Rookie Kendrick Nunn has come back to earth a little after his hot start, defenses started focusing on him and blitzing him a lot more. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy happier with his situation: “Everything is good — Miami, the organization, the culture, where I live… It’s a lot warmer (than where he grew up in Chicago), I don’t like the cold.” Nunn, however, likely will be back in Chicago in February — All-Star weekend, for the Rising Stars Game on Friday night with teams of rookies and second-year guys. “I’m looking forward to that for sure, just for a couple days though,” Nunn told NBC Sports.
6. Raptors (7-3, LW 8). Nick Nurse didn’t lean much on his bench until injuries to Kyle Lowry (thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle) forced him to, but he has been rewarded. Chris Boucher has been a defensive force, blocking shots by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was hitting critical shots against the Lakers. The Raptors have started 2-1 on a five-game road trip, with the only loss being on the second night of a back-to-back against the Clippers (who had a rested Kawhi Leonard).
7. Jazz (8-3, LW 9). Utah’s offense has looked better the past couple of weeks (up 2.1 points per 100 possessions over their season average, via Cleaning the Glass), but it is still the Utah defense that has them winning games. Last week they won two big ones, at home against the best of the East in Philadelphia and them Milwaukee. Bojan Bogdanovic’s game-winner against the Bucks that will be one of the big shots of the season for the Jazz.
8. 76ers (7-3, LW 2). The Sixers are all about the close games. Four of Philadelphia’s seven wins have been by eight points or less. The Sixers struggled on a recent road trip going 1-3 — with all three losses by a combined 10 points — but came home and fattened up on Charlotte and Cleveland, before going back out on the road for three more. Those three losses, particularly the one in Denver, brought up the question we asked heading into the season: Who is the closer on this team? Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris combined for one bucket in the fourth quarter against Denver. They have to do better.
9. Rockets (7-3, LW 14). The Rockets have used the combination of a soft schedule (second easiest in the league so far this season) and a historically-hot James Harden to jump out to a fast start. While the Rockets defense has struggled, that has come from the bench, their preferred starting five — Russell Westbrook, Harden, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela — is allowing less than a point per possession when on the court together. Caplet’s off-season shoulder injury (suffered while playing for the Swiss national team) has slowed his offense.
10. Nuggets (7-3, LW 11). Mike Malone is leaning on his starters — the combination of Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, and in Jamal Murray has played the most minutes of any five-man lineup in the NBA so far this young season. Denver’s record looks better than their advanced stats because Jokic has quietly become as good a clutch shooter as we have in the league right now, and he hit two game-winners over the weekend to save the Nuggets.
11. Suns (6-4, LW 5). It’s the question a lot of people keep asking: Are the Suns for real? It sure feels like they are (they played the Lakers tough until the end Tuesday night). For one thing, this is a top 10 offense and the defense is respectable (middle of the pack). Then there are games like Sunday, coming off a loss to Miami, where the Suns bounced back and trounced the Nets. Or, when Devin Booker scored 11 in a row in the fourth quarter recently to help beat Philly. The combination of Monty Williams as coach and Ricky Rubio at the point has Phoenix playing smart ball, the kind that is sustainable.
12. Pacers (7-4, LW 18).Malcolm Brogdon has the Pacers off to a quality start to the season, but they should be racking up wins now — all 11 of their games have been against teams currently below .500. That’s about to change with the Rockets and Bucks the next two teams up on the schedule. The Pacers sent Victor Oladipo down to the G-League for a day to get in practice, he’s still a ways away but it’s a good sign he’s getting in the work.
13. Mavericks (6-4, LW 10). The boos are about to rain down on Kristaps Porzingis as he returns to Madison Square Garden Thursday to take on the Knicks (even though, when you look at the Knicks right now, do you blame him for wanting out?). Dallas lost to the New York at home last week despite another Luka Doncic triple-double. Porzingis has not played up to the level of his pre-injury self yet, but after nearly 20 months away from an NBA court that is to be expected. This was always going to take time.
14. Timberwolves (6-4, LW 13). It’s time to acknowledge this: Andrew Wiggins is playing the best basketball of his career. It’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows — he’s not defending all that well, he’s certainly not living up to his contract — but it’s better than we have seen him play. It remains a tail of halves: In the first half he shoots 30.3% from three and doesn’t really impact the game on either end; then in the second half he shoots 37.9% from three (50% in the fourth), he’s more engaged and attacks the rim, and he impacts games late. We’ll see if it keeps up, but so far his 21.1 PER is lightyears ahead of any other season he’s had and a sign of just how well he is going.
15. Spurs (5-5, LW 12). The San Antonio Spurs are averaging 25.2 free throw attempts per game, 11th most in the NBA. That doesn’t seem remarkable until you compare it to their history, the Spurs are not a team that draws fouls — they have been in the bottom 10 in the league in free throw attempts four of the past five years (and never were above 22 a game). San Antonio is attacking a little more, and just finding ways to win.
16. Nets (4-6, LW 17). When Jarrett Allen is on the court, Brooklyn outscores opponents by 8.8 points per 100 possessions. When DeAndre Jordan is on the court, the Nets get outscored by 12.8. Allen is averaging 25.5 points per game, Jordan 22.4. Jordan is making $9.9 million a season in the first-year of a four-year contract. The lesson here? It’s good to have Kyrie and KD as your friends.
17. Trail Blazers (4-7, LW 19). Tuesday night’s loss sloppy loss to a Sacramento team without D’Aaron Fox set off even more alarm bells in Portland — this team is not right. The defense is struggling and the offense isn’t bailing them out Damian Lillard is carrying this team — he dropped 60 on Brooklyn and Portland still lost the game. CJ McCollum is struggling with his shot, Hassan Whiteside is Hassan Whiteside, and guys that might help such as Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, and Jusuf Nurkic are out injured. It all just puts more pressure on GM Neil Olshay to make a trade at the deadline.
18. Thunder (4-7, LW 15). While the record isn’t what OKC had hoped, this is a very competitive team that has four losses by five points or less. Filter out garbage time (as Ben Falk does at Cleaning the Glass) and the Thunder have a net rating of -0.7 — just a little under a .500 team. Catch a couple of bounces and this team has another win or two. That said, it’s going to be tough to rack up wins in the next four games against the 76ers, Clippers, and a home-and-home against the Lakers.
19. Bulls (4-7, LW 24). There are still a lot of things wrong in Chicago, but for a night rookie Coby White was able to cover them up by making seven three pointers in the fourth quarter to lead a win over the Knicks. Pulling away in the fourth is a nice change of pace for Bulls’ fans, who have had to watch their team blow four double-digit leads that became losses already this season.
20. Cavaliers (4-6, LW 25). Ten games into the season, we can now say: The Cleveland Cavaliers are not that bad. Which is a whole lot better than most of us expected (including Cavs fans). Take garbage time out of the equation (as stats at Cleaning the Glass do) and their net rating is -0.2, which is basically a .500 team. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are showing some chemistry, veterans such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are playing well (and upping their trade value), and the Cleveland offense has looked pretty good the past couple of weeks.
21. Hawks (4-6, LW 16).Trae Young has made the leap in his second season — he is playing like an All-Star. Young is making history right now — he is the first Hawks player ever to have three straight games with at least 30 points and 10 assists. Tuesday night he had 42 points, shot 8-of-11 from three (with some Stephen Curry-ranged makes), dished out 11 assists, and willed the Hawks to an impressive 125-121 win on the road in Denver.
22. Hornets (4-6, LW 20). Statistically, the Hornets may be 4-6 but they are playing over their head, with a -7.3 net rating that would suggest another loss or two. Or, look at it this way: Charlotte has trailed by at lest 10 points in every one of its games. The one bright spot has been Devonte' Graham, who is averaging 17.9 points per game and absolutely should be starting in place of Terry Rozier right now.
23. Magic (3-7, LW 23). The rumors that Orlando is interested in DeMar DeRozan make sense: Orlando’s problem is on offense where they average less than a point per possession this season (second worst in the league), and DeRozan is a “just add water and instant offense” kind of player. Orlando has dropped 5-of-6 and on Wednesday night the 76ers come to town for what could be the Markelle Fultz revenge game.
24. Kings (4-6, LW 27). The Kings feel snakebit. First Marvin Bagley III goes down injured. Then on Monday, De’Aaron Fox rolled his ankle near the end of the Kings’ practice and he will be out 3-4 weeks with what has been described as a grade 3 sprain. Fox was putting up 18.2 points and dishing out 7 assists a game this season as the focal point of the Kings’ offense. Look for more Cory Joseph and Yogi Farrell.
25. Pistons (4-8, LW 22). Blake Griffin has returned to the lineup and looked pretty good in his debut with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Derrick Rose could return to the lineup this week as well from his strained hamstring, and the Pistons could use his playmaking skills off the bench as they are on the road for 3-of-4.
26. Wizards (2-6, LW 21). The good news is that with Bradley Beal and impressive rookie Rui Hachimura the Wizards have been getting buckets — they have the 11th ranked offense in the league. The bad news is with those two on the floor the Wizards give up more than 122 points per 100 possessions — Washington’s defense is a mess. Thomas Bryant is not a rim-protecting backstop, and the insertion of Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup is not a boost on that end of the court. Thomas is averaging 10 points a game with a dreadful 47.1 true shooting percentage as a starter.
27. Pelicans (2-8, LW 28).Brandon Ingram is averaging a career high 25.9 points per game. but how he’s getting those buckets has evolved since previous seasons. Ingram is getting to the rim less (just 21% of his shots, down fro 34% a season ago) but he’s not taking 30% of his shot attempts from beyond the arc and is hitting 46.9% of them. That shooting percentage is going to come down to earth some, but Ingram’s improved jumper speaks to the overall improvement in his game.
28. Grizzlies (3-7, LW 29).Ja Morant continues to put up numbers and look like a Rookie of the Year candidate, but what the Grizzlies really need is him and Jaren Jackson Jr. to find some chemistry, and that has yet to happen. When those two are on the court this season the Grizzlies score less than a point per possession and have a net rating of -11.8. Morant has 47 assists this season but only four have been to Jackson. It’s early, but the Grizzlies need this pairing to grow and work better.
29. Warriors (2-9, LW 26). Golden State rookie Eric Paschall is getting just about all he can eat in terms of touches on the shorthanded Warriors, and the result is him scoring 15.6 points per game. What’s most impressive is he is getting to the rim, with 43.5% of his shots coming in the restricted area, and he’s finishing a very good 66% of them. He’s one ray of hope for Warriors fans this season.
30. Knicks (2-9, LW 30). The Knicks signed Julius Randle this summer to bring his bully ball style in the paint to Madison Square Garden this season, but with other teams able to clog the paint because of a lack of shooting, Randle is shooting just 42.4% this season. His three-point percentage also is way off, down to 21.1% (he hit 34.4% a season ago). Things are so bad with the Knicks team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were forced to address the media (you know James Dolan demanded it), and it feels like David Fizdale may be the scapegoat. He’s no blameless, but you can resurrect John Wooden from the dead and he couldn’t get this roster to win, it’s unbalanced and never was going to fit well.
James Harden: ‘Have you ever seen me not play because of load management?’
James Harden played 78 games last season, 72 the season before that (which was impacted by a strained hamstring), and either 81 or 82 games the three seasons before that. The former MVP does not take time off and has said before he wouldn’t do load management.
In the wake of the pointless discussion aroundKawhi Leonard sitting out half of a back-to-back Wednesday vs. Milwaukee, Harden was asked about rest and said exactly what you would expect him to say — he’s not doing it. Via Michael Shapiro of SI Now:
James Harden won’t be taking the Kawhi route anytime soon
No, I have not seen Harden take a load management game.
I have seen him fade and hit a wall deep in the playoffs, as the heavy load he was asked to carry too long finally caught up with him. The Rockets have suffered for it.
The hard-data science on the value of load management is not conclusive. However, teams have bought in. It’s not an accident the Spurs run seemed extended by it, that other elite players such as LeBron James — guys asked to take on heavy playoff loads — are better for being rested and healthy before the playoffs started, and that the Raptors’ load managing Kawhi Leonard last season played a role in his Finals MVP and the Raptors’ title.
Any rest is not going to happen this early in the season because the Rockets are still a work in progress in terms of chemistry and rotations. Houston needs Harden and Westbrook on the court (and more out of Clint Capela, but that’s another discussion). The Rockets are still finding their identity — and searching for their defense — this season.
However, as the calendar moves along and flips over to 2020, having Harden miss a handful of back-to-backs or other games could be beneficial in the long run. The Rockets see themselves as contenders, but to push the Los Angeles teams a lot of things need to come together in Houston — and they will need full MVP Harden deep into the playoffs.
Harden, however, wants no part of this load management talk.
Watch James Harden score 36 points, lead Rockets in rout Warriors 129-112
HOUSTON —James Harden had 36 points and 13 assists and the Houston Rockets routed Golden State 129-112 on Wednesday night, sending the short-handed Warriors to their sixth loss in eight games this season.
Harden again appeared to be moving past his early shooting woes, going 6 of 16 from 3-point range. Since going 17 of 79 on 3s in his first six games, Harden has made 13 of 32 the last two.
Already reeling from injuries to Splash Brothers Stephen Curry (broken hand) and Klay Thompson (knee surgery) and the loss of Kevin Durant, the Warriors were without D'Angelo Russell (sprained right ankle) and Draymond Green (torn ligament in left index finger) for a third straight game. Russell, who sat on the Golden State bench, could return Friday, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Houston and Golden State entered the game ranked 29th and 28th in the league in points allowed, giving up an average of 123.1 and 120.4 points per game, respectively. Neither team had played a game so far this season where they held their opponent below triple digits.
Both teams struggled with their shooting for spurts of the first half, but late in the second quarter, Harden drilled a deep 3-pointer where he was also fouled. That shot fired up both Harden and the Toyota Center crowd, including rapper Travis Scott, who was sitting courtside.
Houston led 63-52 at the half, thanks in large part to Harden’s 24 first-half points, but also Golden State’s 38.8% shooting from the field.
There were seven lead changes in the first half before Houston started to pull away.
To open up the second half, the Rockets held the Warriors to just three field goals in the first seven minutes of the third quarter and built a lead as large as 23 points. They entered the fourth quarter leading 98-83.