After finishing the 2017-18 season as the NBA’s top regular season team and taking the Golden State Warriors to a 7th game in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets were considered among the Top 4 Contenders to win the NBA title this season. But after a combination of circumstances and events, the Rockets had a slow start to their season.
Houston lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah Moute to free agency. They added Carmelo Anthony during the offseason with the hopes of offsetting their losses. However, the Carmelo experiment did not work and the Rockets lost Chris Paul (and Harden too) to injuries early in the season. The Rockets were off to a slow start and looked like a shadow of last year’s confident and dominant team. And then James Harden happened.
Harden’s 30-Point StreakPhoto: spin.ph.com
What began as a string of games where the reigning MVP scored 30 or more points has become one of the longest streaks in the history of the league. Including his 61-point return at Madison Square Garden on January 23, 2019. Harden has now scored 30 or more points in 21 consecutive games. That’s the fourth-longest ever in the NBA and the longest by any player not named Wilt Chamberlain.
Chamberlain owns the record of 65 straight games which he set in 1961-62 when he averaged over 50 points per game. Wilt the Stilt also has two other records of 31 and 25 at #2 and #3 on the list but knowing that Wilt was a seven footer in the 1960s and Harden is all 6-5, The Beard’s achievement is impressive, to say the least.
A Signature Game At The GardenPhoto: yardbarker.com
Of course, the latest of Harden’s 30-point exploits was his 61-point performance at the Madison Square Garden last January 23rd. In that game, Harden scored his 61st point off a steal that sealed the Houston Rockets’ 114-110 escape act over the New York Knicks. Harden has always talked about wanting to have a signature game at the Garden and he delivered one last Wednesday.
Harden’s 61 points at the Garden was a career-high for him and it matched Kobe Bryant’s record for most points scored by a visitor in the current version of the Madison Square Garden which opened in 1968. The great Michael Jordan’s best game at the Garden was good for 55 points while Steph Curry’s personal best at MSG is 54. With his 61-point effort, Harden is averaging 52.5 points per game in his last five games, the second-longest streak of averaging 50 PPG in NBA history. Harden also became only the 5th player in league history to have multiple 60+ games in his career.
Carrying The Rockets On His ShouldersPhoto: bleacherreport.com
What makes Harden’s current feat incredible is the fact that he is carrying the Houston Rockets on his shoulders. With Chris Paul still out and Clint Capela also hit by the injury bug, Harden has had to do things on his own. Harden has scored a total of 261 points in his last five games, the 2nd-most points (behind Kobe Bryant) scored by a player in a five-game stretch over the past 50 years. It’s interesting to note that none of Harden’s 261 points in his last five games were assisted, meaning Harden had to weave his offensive magic to score every point on his own.
After this 61-point performance, Harden is now averaging a league-best 36.3 points per game. If he keeps up those numbers, it’s not just a career-high for him, It will make him only the fifth player in NBA history to average more than 35 points per game in a single season. With three more games to play this month, Harden is averaging 45.3 points per game in the month of January. The only player to average 45 points per game in any month of an NBA regular season is well, Wilt Chamberlain.
The Next Unanimous MVP?
With his otherworldly performances, Harden has shot back to the top of the favorites to win the MVP award this season. According to betmaker Betway as of 1/25/19, The Beard is a clear -250 favorite to repeat as MVP this season. Milwaukee’s Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo is second at +350 while Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James is third at +1000. If the Beard continues his epic performance this season, no question he is going to become the first back-to-back winner since Stephen Curry in 2015-16.
Harden was the favorite in the 2017-18 NBA MVP race and he got 86 first-place votes during the MVP voting with only LeBron James at 15 getting the other first-place votes. Given how dominant James Harden has been so far and if he continues to play at this high level, then we also might see Harden follow Steph Curry as the only players to win unanimously the MVP voting. That would be another feather in the cap for The Beard. The MVP award is too far ahead though. We’re still halfway the NBA 2018-19 Regular Season schedule. For now, let’s enjoy the handiwork of James Harden, the best scorer since Wilt Chamberlain.