Raptors next to experience the Harden show
At some point, Houston Rockets guard James Harden will hit a ceiling, a level where his performance is capped and his statistical dominance plateaus. When that moment arrives is anyone's guess.
Harden continued his scoring binge Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, his 61 points matching former Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for the most scored by a visiting player since the venue was renovated.
That total marked a career high for Harden and also set a franchise standard, extending his otherworldly run that yields nightly alterations to the record books.
The injury-ravaged Rockets (27-20) improved to 6-5 this month with their 114-110 victory over the New York Knicks. They will attempt to end their string of alternating wins and losses throughout January when they host the Toronto Raptors on Friday at Toyota Center.
Harden not only became the first player in league history to attempt 20 free throws and 20 3-pointers in the same game, he became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal on March 6, 2000, to post 60 points and 15 rebounds in the same game.
Harden has produced five 50-point games this season, three over his past five starts, during which he is averaging 52.2 points per game.
Despite this, the Rockets continue to scuffle, needing late-game heroics to stifle the lowly Knicks. Until Houston is whole, with Chris Paul and Clint Capela both available, this is the reality.
Help could be on its way.
Paul practiced Thursday and was upgraded to questionable for Friday's game. Paul has been sidelined for five weeks with a hamstring injury since leaving Houston's Dec. 20 game.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni is putting the decision primarily in the hands of Paul.
"If it's not Friday, it's Sunday (against the Magic)," D'Antoni said. "If it's not Sunday, it's Monday (against the Pelicans). But it's close."
The nine-time All-Star is averaging 15.6 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game in 26 contests this season.
The Rockets are only 3-2 when Harden scores 50 points, and their recent struggles are reflective of just how dependent they have become on his historic scoring.
"We're making it tough on ourselves, and I don't like being in positions like that," said Rockets guard Eric Gordon, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer and forced the turnover that enabled Harden to record his 60th and 61st points. "We shouldn't put ourselves in this position."
The Raptors (36-14) lost Wednesday at Indiana with Kawhi Leonard (rest), OG Anunoby (personal) and Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) all unavailable. The Raptors had won eight of nine games before their 110-106 setback and are a robust 9-3 this month despite the rotation flux.
Even in defeat, the Raptors' quality depth is an asset, with Toronto erasing almost all of a 15-point deficit before ultimately falling to the Pacers. This was accomplished on the second night of a back-to-back, with the Raptors maintaining an exceptional 8-2 mark in such situations.
"You shouldn't ease into any game but I guess it's typical for your body, your energy to be a little low. But you've got to find ways to find it," Raptors guard Danny Green said.
"For us this season we've been pretty decent with back-to-backs, kind of been spoiled with them and done pretty well. Regardless of who's on the floor, we've always had some other bodies come and give us that energy."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 25, 2019