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For 20 games (and counting), James Harden has etched his place in NBA lore. During that stretch, he's logged at least 30 points in each game, scored 40 or more nine times and broken the 50-point plateau three times.
Harden's run of 30-point performances now trails only NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain, who posted runs of 20, 25, 31 and 65 games at various points from 1960-62. In an interview with Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Harden says as great as his scoring feat has been, he's ultimately driven to be mentioned among the game's all-time greats.
“Kobe [Bryant] and Wilt and [Michael] Jordan -- now we’re talking about the elites of the game, the greatest to ever touch a basketball,” Harden told the newspaper. “It’s honorable to be up there with those names. Honest, I have a long way to go. I’m not even close to what they accomplished in their careers. But it’s pretty cool to be in that conversation and almost there. But I have a lot of work to do.
“That’s one of the reasons you play the game of basketball: to be, when it’s all said and done, mentioned as one of the greats, the greatest that ever dribbled a basketball, whether it’s Wilt, whether it’s Jordan, and the list goes on. Obviously, you want to win championships and want the individual accomplishments, but every day (when) I’m in the gym and work on moves, I think about that.
“When I’m done, whenever that is, I want my name up there with them. It’s a good place to be in.”
Harden's scoring run began on Dec. 13, in a 126-121 win against the L.A. Lakers. He finished with 50 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and at the time, the Rockets sat in 14th place in the Western Conference standings. Since then, Houston has gone 13-6 and moved to No. 5 in the West.
Over the past 20 games, Harden is averaging 42.3 points per game, upping his league-leading scoring average from 30 ppg entering that Dec. 13 game versus the Lakers to 35.7 ppg. That average would be the NBA's highest since Jordan led the league in scoring with 37.1 ppg in 1986-87.
If he maintains this pace, Harden's average would be the ninth-highest single-season scoring average in league history. Only five players in NBA history -- Chamberlain (5 times), Jordan, Bryant and Rick Barry -- have averaged at least 35 ppg in a season.
* NBA.com/Stats: Digging into Harden's scoring surge
Injuries have made life rough on the Rockets at times this season. Chris Paul has been out of the lineup since late December with a hamstring injury, while center Clint Capela was recently lost for four to six weeks with a right thumb injury. Harden is averaging a league-high 37.1 minutes per game, but says carrying a heavier load -- and working on his game each offseason -- is all part of the job as the reigning Kia MVP.
“Finding ways to evolve with the league,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle. “Every single year you have to come back better than you were. For me, I had a pretty good year last year, but I had to come back better and come up with a new move or a new package to keep defenders on their heels.
“As long as we can keep our head above water until these guys get back, put ourselves in that position, we’re good. We know as a healthy unit, we can beat anybody. I know as long as I can keep our head above water, once those guys get back my minutes will go down, we’ll win, and it will be a lot easier. Until then, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
Information from NBA.com/Stats and The Associated Press was used in this report