WHATEVER IT TAKES

How commitment on defense is paying off for James Harden and the Rockets

James Harden
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
3-pointers from Rockets game 4 win versus Warriors

Thursday night, the Rockets were able to take a bigger step in the seeding because of a 113-97 win against the Los Angeles Lakers. They were able to do so without their starting point guard, Russell Westbrook. James Harden had big night by providing 39 points, 12 assists, and shot 50% from three. Harden was even a plus 16 from the field of play.

Ever since the Harden entered the bubble, he has played exceptionally well on defense and offense. Harden has seen a numerous number of double teams since playing the Dallas Mavericks. But Harden said they prepare for it well in practice. This allows shooters like Ben McLemore, Jeff Green, PJ Tucker, and Austin Rivers to get open. Harden has been able to direct his teammates to the middle of the paint or kick it out to the corner.

"Really good. That's nothing new to us. We [have] seen that already. That's something actually we practice. We watch film on teams that trap. Guys are in their right spots, get some open shots, and [a] couple of layups," as Harden told the media Thursday night.

Harden in the last four games is averaging 33.8 points per game, shooting 35.8% from three, nine assists, and 5.3 steals a game.

Harden has played stellar defense in these four games as well. Before the playoffs start, Harden wants the Rockets' defense to be better. Even though the Rockets are 5th in steals, there still can be improvement. The Rockets defense has looked good in the bubble as well. They are ranked 7th in general team defense.

On a good note, coach Mike D'Antoni has admired Harden's defense while in the bubble.

"His commitment on defense is the number one thing. Really talking and trying to get guys to buy-in. You got to do it by example. He came up with steals and he is locked in. Whatever it takes to win," as D'Antoni said.

Harden did like the way they played defense Thursday night by holding the Lakers under 100 points. Especially, when Anthony Davis is on limited minutes and LeBron James did not play.

"What I'm really proud of is on the defensive end. They did not score 100 points. Even with LeBron [James] not playing and AD playing limited minutes, our goal is to defend on a high-level tonight and I think we did that tonight," as Harden said. "That's going to win us a championship, on the defensive end."

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Yordan Alvarez is hitting fifth for the American League. Composite Getty Image.

Baltimore's Corbin Burnes will start for the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game against Pittsburgh rookie Paul Skenes.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Burnes is 9-4 with a 2.93 ERA in his first season with the Orioles, who acquired him from Milwaukee just before spring training. The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, Burnes is an All-Star for the fourth straight season. He will become the fifth Orioles pitcher to start an All-Star Game, the first since Steve Stone in 1980.

Skenes, who made his major league debut on May 11, is 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 89 and walking 13 in 66 1/3 innings. The 11 starts for the 21-year-old right-hander will be the fewest for an All-Star and he will become the fifth rookie starter after Dave Stenhouse (1962), Mark Fidrych (1976), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Hideo Nomo (1995).

NL manager Torey Lovullo announced last week he was starting Skenes.

AL manager Bruce Bochy of World Series champion Texas said Monday he has Steven Kwan of Cleveland hitting leadoff and playing left field, followed by Baltimore shortstop Gunnar Henderson, New York Yankees right fielder Juan Soto and center fielder Aaron Judge, Houston designed hitter Yordan Alvarez, Guardians shortstop José Ramírez, Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien.

Ketel Marte bats first and plays second base for the NL, followed by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, Philadelphia shortstop Trea Turner, Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper, Milwaukee catcher William Contreras, Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich, Phillies third baseman Alex Bohm, Dodgers center fielder Teoscar Hernández and San Diego left fielder Jurickson Profar.

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