• Print

Too Hot To Handle

February 08, 2013 11:08 pm EST

Harden's red-hot February continues, helps Rockets roll 118-102 past Portland

HOUSTON - Perhaps the surest sign signifying an athlete’s ascension to true superstardom occurs when one ceases to be amazed by anything said athlete accomplishes from that point forward. 18 points in a quarter? Yawn. 40 points for the game? Been there, done that. Triple-doubles, trick shots and game-winners? The Bachelor’s weekly plot twists register more shock and surprise. 

So it is for James Harden these days as his meteoric career arc careens ever higher while showing no signs of slowing anytime soon. Remember the days when critics actually questioned whether or not last season’s Sixth Man of the Year was a true foundation piece and capable of carrying a team? Now he throws up video game numbers like Friday’s 35 point, 11 assist, 7 rebound performance during the Rockets’ 118-103 shellacking of Portland and few bat so much as an eyelash.

Of course, it’s nobody’s fault but his own. Harden has been so spectacular, so outlandishly good of late that he’s broken the matrix with which we’re accustomed to grading greatness. Forget about raising the bar. Right now there is no bar. Shooting 13-16 from the field, 4-5 from beyond the arc and posting a true shooting percentage of 94 percent is not supposed to happen in the real world. But then again, neither are Harden’s four-game averages of 27.5 points, 8.5 assists and 8 rebounds per game, all racked up while posting a robust true shooting percentage of 78.3 percent. That sort of efficiency is superhuman, which sort of makes sense given that it’s only been rivaled of late by the NBA’s other resident alien, LeBron James.

“He can score,” said Chandler Parsons, delivering an early frontrunner for understatement of the year. “I wish I could say he should pass the ball more but he’s also got a lot of assists. He’s taking good shots, he’s getting to the rack, he’s getting free throws – he can hurt you in so many different ways it’s incredible. He’s so strong and can really finish.

“I’ll tell him during the game: ‘You’re ridiculous.’ I’ll literally look at him and be like, ‘You’re coldblooded.’”

The Blazers will no doubt agree with that assessment after limping away from a night during which they probably thanked their lucky stars that they actually forced Harden into three missed shots. The 23-year-old was so scorching in fact that even his first miss caromed off the rim in such a way that the ball bounced perfectly into the hands of Patrick Patterson who was soaring through the air ready to slam it home, no differently than he would have if Harden’s intention had been to toss his airborne teammate an ideal alley-oop.

And though it was Harden’s shot-making which understandably stood out Friday night, it was his impeccable decision making that should be striking terror into the hearts of all future Rockets opponents right about now. Harden is picking his spots, probing the defense and sharing the ball in such a way that he's turning every possession into a pick-your-poison affair for which there appears to be no known antidote. Play him one-on-one? Better make sure your shorts are tied on tightly lest they end up around your ankles after he undresses you with that Eurostep of his. Collapse into the paint in an effort to cut off his path to the rim? Hope you enjoy the ensuing three-point barrage and be sure to save up your fouls so you can circumvent any chance of being on the wrong end of a record-setting night.

Such is the havoc James Harden is wreaking right now. But none of it should really come as much of a surprise anymore. That’s just what superstars do.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On James Harden's efficiency of last two games) “He was really efficient. He's done quite well. He's making shots and he's making plays. The thing I like about it is he had 11 assists. It was really impressive. You look at a guy with 35 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds and threw a steal in there, just to have one of those two, it was really impressive.”

(On Yao Ming's presence at the game) “It would be better if he was playing. I don't think (Yao Ming) watching helps at all.”

(On the defense play of LaMarcus Aldridge) “We got some hands up. I thought we gave him a little too much of his left shoulder to turn into the paint early, but then we kind of got that solved. We put Omer (Asik) on him to start the second half and then he (LaMarcus Aldridge) kind of stepped out and made a few jump shots on “O.” At a certain point, he's going to have to give up something to the guy. He's a deadly 17 to 18 foot jump shooter.”

(On the play of the back court, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin) “I thought three guys...anytime you get the production that we got out of them, that’s huge. We had 70 points roughly out of that group. The thing I like about it is we had 18 assists and only 7 turnovers, that's what we've got to have out of that group. Some nights, 14 turnovers and 11 assists, that's too much of that. We've actually had a couple of games where we've been taking care of the ball a little bit better. Hopefully this is just one of those things...we just got to get into Sacramento and get after those guys and see if we can get some momentum getting into the All Star break.”

(On teams play on coming together during the losing streak) “We were losing some of those games where we were losing our pace and we were playing in clouds. We weren't pushing the ball. We kind of were going through an identity crisis. I think everybody came out of it. I think (we realized) we do need to push the ball. We do need to play a certain style; I said “our score is going way down, our field goal percentage is going down, our turnovers are going way up. There's nothing positive about this style of play. We got to get back to attacking” When we do that, we're much better. We weren't perfect defensively tonight. It's hard for our team how we're constituted to be a team that wants to play in the 70's. That's just not our identity.”

(On scoring the last two games) “Anytime you keep scoring, it gives you an x amount of confidence. The way we play, There's going to be a lot of runs in the game, We just got to hope our runs...we have one more run than you have or our run is just deeper than your run is. If we get stop, stop, turnover, obviously that’s three consecutive run outs baskets. We got to get enough stops in there to keep us going.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(on Harden)

He can score. I wish I could say he should pass the ball more but he’s also got a lot of assists. He’s taking good shots, he’s getting to the rack, he’s getting free throws – he can hurt you in so many different ways it’s incredible. He’s so strong and can really finish.

I’ll tell him during the game: ‘You’re ridiculous.’ I’ll literally look at him and be like, ‘You’re coldblooded.’

He’s not forcing. He’s being more of a playmaker than just a dead-on scorer. I always knew he could do that but I think just early on he was pressing so hard to just score, score, score. I think he’s trusting us and he’s believing in his teammates more which is allowing him more freedom. He’s getting more assists and he’s contributing in so many ways other than scoring.

(On the importance of the win) “It was huge. We owed them a couple, we let a few slip away in overtime. Going into All Star break, we need all these wins against all these teams that are right in the hunt with us so tonight it was huge for us to come out with energy. It all started on the defensive end. They hit some tough shots but we kept our head high and stayed together and kept to our principles.”

(On scoring against other teams) “I wish it was that easy. Some nights shots aren't falling but LaMarcus Aldridge is the real deal, he's going to hit tough shots, we just have to live with it and make sure they're are very difficult like they were tonight and there's not much you can do when a guy is hitting like that, except go and double team but they have such a good unit out there where you leave him, (Nicolas)Batum is hitting 3's or (Damian) Lillard's hitting 3's. You just got to try and make it as difficult as possible for those guys, with a mindset in the back of our heads that they have to guard us on the other end too.”

JAMES HARDEN

To be honest I’m just focused on rallying these guys to get it every single game; back-to-backs, no matter who we play … it’s just a matter of not letting down. Every single day for us is a grind.

(On what are the different factors that inspire his play) “Just being aggressive and the shots are falling so it's opening everything else up. Teammates are knocking down shots and it's tough to guard us. When my teammates are knocking down shots, I'm getting easy lay ups, so it was a good team effort tonight.”

(On  LaMarcus Aldridge's play) “(He is a) monster, (he is a ) beast, (he got a) double-double. He played very good. He's an All Star. He did his job so we didn't have an answer for him. Luckily, we made some shots and had a good enough lead to where it really didn't really affect us.”

PATRICK PATTERSON

(On the importance of the win) “Huge, as far as the standings go. We know that they are a game behind us, but also the bigger picture that they beat us twice, two games we felt like we should have won. We definitely don’t want them to get the upper hand on us so this was a huge game and a step in the right direction.”

(On the challenge of defending LaMarcus Aldridge) “Obviously he out played me by far, he is a tough opponent. He is always someone I have trouble guarding – his size, his skill, his ability to score in the post, his touch around the basket and his ability to shoot outside shots. Getting a hand in his face just isn’t good enough, but overall I thought we did a good job in the second half. In the first half he was getting whatever he wanted, but he was also hitting tough shots. In the second half I think we all did a great job of making him uncomfortable, which helped us get the win.”

TONEY DOUGLAS

(On how his hip feels) “It’s really sore. It’s swollen right now, my hip area. I will go day-by-day and come in the morning for treatment.”

(On how he got injured) “I dribbled the ball off to James (Harden) and Wesley Matthews elbow got me real (bad).”

JEREMY LIN

(On the importance of the win) “It counts as double. It’s definitely very important, so we’re glad we were able to get it and create a little bit of distance but it is still a long season. We have to continue to get better and we are going to see them again later on down the road.”

(On the performance of James Harden) “It was incredible. I have never seen a performance that efficient. That was awesome. We were all just kind of playing off of him, letting him be the playmaker. He was feeling it, everything was easy, open for him tonight.”

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS COACH TERRY STOTTS

(On the game) “Well Houston is shooting the ball well these days. They shot well against us. Obviously the first half, the three point ball was going. They were shooting the ball well inside, outside, and midrange. And were getting to the rim and we didn’t have any answers for them defensively. We probably could have contested (shots) a little better. (Jeremy) Lin is an effective driver and also (James) Harden and the same thing with (Chandler) Parsons. When they’re standing outside you don’t know whether they are going to drive or shoot. When they spread the court like they do and penetrate and find their shooters, they are very hard to guard.”

(On James Harden) “When he is making his three’s, he had a very efficient night. That is as efficient a night as you will see. He had 20 points on eight shots at the half. He doesn’t miss a shot in the first half, doesn’t miss a free throw, and he was efficient with his passes. He had a fantastic night.”

DAMIAN LILLARD

(On the Rockets) “Houston does a good job of spacing and spreading the floor. James Harden is one of the best playmakers in the league. He can really get to the rim and score. As good a job as Houston does spacing, he’s a great player to have on their team. They make shots and when you over help and they suck you in, they make you pay. They did it to the Warriors and tonight they got a bunch of good looks also. I only defended him (Harden) two or three times and it was tough for anybody who has to defend him. He is so strong and his quickness, his first step is so tough and he can shoot the ball and get to the rim and dunk it. Anytime somebody has a complete game like him, its always tough”

LaMARCUS ALDRIDGE

(On the game) “The first two games they didn’t make as many three’s as they made tonight. They had a really good rhythm into this game and they had been shooting the ball well and shot it again tonight really well.”

(On his game) “My shot felt pretty good. We ran pick-and-rolls to get me open and my shot felt good tonight and I was making shots.”

(On making the All Star) “It’s my second one and I’m excited about it. It’s a big honor and I look forward to coming back home to Texas and having fun with my whole family here.”

NICOLAS BATUM

(On playing with a new cast) “I was playing good with the cast because I really couldn’t shoot the ball the last two weeks. I tried a new thing (the cast) yesterday and I think that it really worked out. My hand felt better, I felt more comfortable in the second half and my shot felt good. I started to get going and I didn’t feel any pain so I kept shooting it.”

(On the game) “We’re down fifteen and we feel like we can come back. Houston played good tonight and they’ve played good for the last couple of games. They’ve been hitting their three’s and their getting a lot more confidence. They played well tonight.”

(On James Harden) “This year he is incredible. I don’t know if he’s the best shooting guard in the league right now, but maybe he is. He’s had a great year for them.”

NOTES

Houston handed Portland a 118-103 setback tonight, moving the Rockets a full two games ahead of the Trail Blazers in the standings. The Rockets also scored the most points in regulation against the Blazers this season: 119 by Orlando (OT) on Jan. 7.

The Rockets hit 47-of-79 (.595) from the field tonight, which was Houston’s best shooting night of the season. The previous high for a game was a 46-of-82 (.561) outing at Chicago (12/25/12).

Houston handed out 27 helpers tonight, giving the Rockets a record of 11-3 this season when the team dishes out 27 or more assists.

The Rockets also scored 62 first-half points on 24-of-37 (.649) shooting tonight, setting Houston’s season high field goal percentage for a half. The previous best was .605 in the first half at Chicago (12/25/12).

Over the last three home games combined, Houston has netted 201 first-half points (67.0 ppg) on 74-of-126 (.587) shooting. The Rockets are also a combined 24-of-43 (.558) from beyond the arc in the first half of the last three home outings.

Houston scored the first points of the game and never fell behind tonight. It was the second time this season that the Rockets did not give up the lead in a game. Houston also went for a wire-to-wire 125-103 victory vs. Philadelphia (12/19/12).

James Harden, who was a perfect 8-of-8 (2-2 3FG, 2-2 FT) from the field for 20 points and eight assists in the first half, finished with a game-high 35 points (13-16 FG, 4-5 3FG, 5-6 FT), 11 assists and seven boards. He now has at least a double-double in three of his last four games, including the first triple-double of his career. Harden came into this game off a 36-point, 12-rebound performance at Miami (2/6/13).

Chandler Parsons scored 20 points (8-14 FG, 4-8 3FG) tonight, marking his 11th 20-point performance of the season.

Patrick Patterson collected 16 points (8-11 FG), six rebounds and two blocks tonight. Patterson has now reached double-figure scoring in eight of his last nine games, including each of the last six consecutive games (1/28/13-2/8/13).

Jeremy Lin had 16 points (6-10 FG, 2-3 3FG) and four assists tonight. Lin had 28 points (10-16 FG) and nine assists in the prior home outing vs. Golden State (2/5/13), including a career-best five treys (5-8 3FG).

Omer Asik had a season-high four blocked shots to go with 13 rebounds tonight.

Patrick Beverley dished out a career-high six assists tonight.

LaMarcus Aldridge led four Blazers with 31 points (14-23 FG) and 11 rebounds tonight. Aldridge has now scored at least 20 points in each of his last 10 regular season visits to Toyota Center, with tonight’s outing being his highest point of any of the 10 games (prev. best: 27 done three times). He has also recorded seven consecutive double-doubles, setting his career long double-double streak (prev. best: six from Jan. 2-11, 2011).

Nicolas Batum netted 24 points (7-12 FG, 4-8 3FG, 6-6 FT) to go with a team-high three blocks tonight, marking his 15th 20-point outing of the season.