No MVP hangover

James Harden cannot be stopped

James Harden is carrying the Rockets. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Monday night the Houston Rockets defeated the Utah Jazz in a fantastic battle, 102-97. It was their fourth straight victory, and Houston pulled themselves above the .500 waterline for just the second time this season.

The Rockets 2018-2019 campaign to date hasn't exactly lived up to it's preseason contender status billing. At times they have looked like world beaters, and at times they've looked lottery-bound. They have been injured, and they have had to deal with what looks like one of the biggest whiffs of an off-season general manager Daryl Morey has ever assembled.

Chris Paul looks aged. Eric Gordon has yet to find his shot nearly 30 games in. The Carmelo Anthony experiment failed in what felt like a little over a week, and the Rockets as a whole have become the 7th worst 3-point shooting team in the league. Yet in spite of all of the turmoil this season one constant remains.

James Harden is still really, really good.

In Monday's victory over the Jazz, Harden was good for 47 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. It was his sixth game this season scoring 40+ points. That's good for the most 40-point games this season in the league to date.

It doesn't stop there. Last week Harden notched his second and third triple-doubles of the season, scoring 50 points and 32 in each on his way to being named the Western Conference Player of the week. In last year's MVP campaign Harden had four triple-doubles total.

With most of Harden's assist options rendered unreliable, The Beard has been forced to carry the team on his back. And while no one will ever mistake his game as pretty, he has cinched up the straps and dominated the game the way superstars in the NBA are expected to.

As of this writing James Harden is:

  • 1st in points per game (31.5)
  • 3rd in points scored (819)
  • 1st in 3-pointers made (106)
  • 2nd in free throws made (223)
  • 7th in assists (213)
  • 3rd in steals (213)
  • 1st in usage (37.4%)
  • 3rd in player efficiency rating (28.0)

The last two are the most telling. What that basically says is that the Rockets use Harden more than any team uses any other player, and in spite of that he remains one of the most efficient and effective players in the game.

See, the difference between basketball and other sports is that - because the team size is so small, and the skill set required to be great is so extensive and rare - if you have a superstar on your team, you can and should contend. There are only a handful in the league at any given time, and Houston is currently in possession of one of the best.

The Rockets head into tonight's game against the Washington Wizards seeking their fifth straight win on their quest to reclaim legitimacy within the Western Conference. While the current run is inspiring, Houston remains quite distanced from their goal of Conference Finals rematch. It will take a consistent effort like that which is currently being presented to close the gap, and Harden looks poised, ready, and willing to do just that. Hopefully the rest of the team can follow suit.

Thursday on First Take, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman talk about the Rockets' big win over the Clippers on Wednesday night.

​Max still wants to see more from James Harden in the playoffs, but Stephen A. thinks the Rockets are the biggest threat to the Lakers and Clippers.

Check out the video above and see who you agree with most.

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