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Taking The Lead

James Harden talks self-improvement during exit interviews with Houston media

HOUSTON - For 98 percent of the players populating today’s NBA, averaging nearly 27 points per game in the playoffs while dishing off around six assists and corralling approximately five rebounds per contest would be cause for a summer-long celebration.

James Harden, however, resides within the league’s two percent. As a member of the NBA elite, he knows he’s held to a higher standard – namely, the standard he set for himself during his second straight All-Star season.

So while those numbers look nice on paper, the fact they were accrued without the typical efficiency Harden employs was a noteworthy topic of conversation in the wake of Houston’s heartbreaking playoff defeat at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. Little wonder, then, that the 24-year-old was hardly glowing in his self-appraisal during today’s exit interview with the Houston media.

“It was OK. It wasn’t my best,” he said of his overall performance. “I have a lot of time now to work on both sides of my game. This summer is going to be key for me.”

In particular, Harden stressed his need for improvement on the defensive end of the floor.

“I have to emerge,” he acknowledged. “I have to grow and take another step. It’s a matter of will and focusing on that end as well. Focus is a major part of the game. Talent-wise, I’m there, but just focusing on the majority of the game (needs to improve).”

Harden also emphasized the importance of his continued maturation and evolution as a team leader. As the team’s two All-Stars, he and Dwight Howard obviously enjoy prominent roles in the locker room, providing them with a platform to set the tone and lead via their words and the example they set. While saying he is “emerging” in that regard, Harden also acknowledged that he still has plenty of room for growth in that area as well, especially when it comes to being able to help steer his club through the turbulent times that occur over the course of the long NBA season.

“80 percent of it is me going out there and showing rather than talking,” he said. “I like to talk but the work is everything. I have to grow in that aspect as well.

“It was our first year together so guys got attitudes or faded out a little bit throughout the entire season whereas next year we can’t have those lapses. We’ve got to be together no matter what – playing bad, not shooting the ball well, individually – we’ve got to just stick together and do it together. We’ll take away small things like that from the season and become better at them.

“We can’t allow those things to happen. For both [himself and Howard], it was the same: we kind of got upset when things weren’t going that well, but we’ve got to realize it’s not about each individual, it’s about the team. Me and Dwight have to be better about that as well.”