Say what you want about James Harden.
He might not be the most aesthetically-pleasing player in the NBA. But his immense production speaks for itself.
The reigning Kia MVP turned in the latest chapter in the hottest stretch of his career on Saturday, erupting for 41 points in the Rockets' 108-104 victory over the Pelicans.
* Harden's third straight 40-point game, matching Moses Malone for the longest streak in franchise history
* Harden's seventh straight 35-point game, tying the 11th-longest streak in NBA history
* Harden's seventh straight 35-point, five-assist game, matching Oscar Robertson for the longest streak in NBA history
"I just try to continue to be aggressive and have confidence in my shots and the things I do on the court," Harden said. "That's what I play for, to be mentioned with the greats. That's what I put my jersey on for and lace up my shoes for, to be the best I can be when it's all said and done."
So far, so good.
More importantly for the Rockets (20-15), Harden's outburst led to their ninth victory in the past 10 games as they pulled into fifth place in the Western Conference.
They've also won four straight since Chris Paul was sidelined with a strained hamstring, an injury that threatened to derail what has already been a challenging season for a Rockets squad that didn't lose their 15th game last season until April 1.
Back to Harden: Tack on a three-point loss to Dallas on Dec. 8, and he's averaging an incredible 39 points over his past 11 outings. Small wonder that Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry called Harden arguably the best isolation player in league history before tipoff.
"I don't know if anybody is better, really, as far as drawing fouls and making plays in 'iso' situations," he said.
Harden promptly made Gentry's case for him with 26 points in the first half, and scoring or assisting on a total of 55 -- a magnificent performance that the very best manage to look routine.
"Another 40 points ... that's incredible," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Obviously, I get to see him every night, but you don't get better than what he does offensively. He does a lot. Somebody said the other day we can only win if he scores 40. OK, that's kind of a bad thing. But the good thing is, he can score 40 every night."
Harden's 40-spot was one of four in the NBA, marking the first time since April 2017 that such an event has occurred. The other standouts were:
* Kemba Walker, who scored 47 in the Hornets' 130-126 loss to the Wizards
* Jamal Murray, who scored 46 in the Nuggets' 122-118 victory over the Suns
* Damian Lillard, who scored 40 in the Blazers' 115-105 loss to the Warriors
Footnote: LaMarcus Aldridge just missed making it five in one night for only the fourth time in NBA history, torching the Clippers for 38 as the Spurs triumphed 122-111 at Staples Center.
Nets center Jarrett Allen joined an exclusive fraternity when he became just the eighth player to ever block a LeBron James dunk attempt earlier this month. He added yet another star to his list of victims in an afternoon matinee against the Bucks, denying superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo with another fearless block.
Giannis ultimately had his revenge, however, throwing down a pair of transition dunks later in the quarter and finishing with his third triple-double of the season as the Bucks won 129-115.
It's been a rough season for Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson. A career 41.6-percent 3-point shooter, who had never shot less than 40.1 percent from range in any of his previous seven campaigns, Thompson entered Saturday's contest with the Blazers hitting just 33.3 percent on 3s.
So, as he proceeded to torch the Blazers for 32 points and four 3s, it was only fitting he gave thanks.
To his hand.
Klay to his right hand after hitting a 3P: "I miss you." 😂 pic.twitter.com/HoEj4hbWKQ— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 30, 2018
One could scarcely have played much better than Kyrie Irving did in the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies, scoring or assisting on 22 of the Celtics' last 25 points to deliver a 112-103 victory in which they trailed by 19.
Having totaled just four points and six assists in the first half, Irving finished with 26 and 13 for his third straight double-double.
Given where the game was played, it was entirely fitting that Knicks coach Dave Fizdale evoked a snowslide to describe his squad's 129-97 beatdown at the hands of the Jazz.
''They came out with force and we came out dead,'' he said. ''We had no legs, no life - nothing. We couldn't make shots. We couldn't get stops. It was just a total avalanche.''
Indeed, the Jazz needed just seven minutes to build a double-digit lead. With seconds left in the first half, it sat at a staggering 40 points, and never dipped below 22 the rest of the way as nine Jazz players finished with at least eight points.
For our money, there are few highlights in the NBA better than an emphatic, athletic putback slam. Hawks forward John Collins and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum treated us to some exquisite examples, tracking in from the 3-point line as if compelled by gravitational pull and rising well above the rim to crank home misses.