About Last Night

About Last Night: When Harden attacks

The reigning Kia MVP enjoys one of the most productive games in NBA history, while a former MVP makes his record-breaking return for Season No. 21

Just because you can afford to buy anything you want doesn’t mean you should.

Then again, when you do what James Harden did to the Lakers on Thursday, you can wear pretty much whatever you want.

Highlighted by a nasty poster slam over JaVale McGee and capped by a monster fourth quarter in which the Lakers were powerless to stop him, Harden carried the Rockets to a 126-111 victory almost by himself with 50 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. It was the fourth 50-point triple-double of his career, and only the 13th in NBA history.

At one point the Lakers, frustrated by Harden’s parade to the line for 19 free throws, reportedly held their arms behind their backs in protest for several defensive possessions. (News flash: That didn’t work, either.)

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of all was how little time Harden needed to amass those numbers, playing a relatively paltry 35 minutes to tie for the lightest workload among his 11 career 50-point games.

Even so, Harden was still winded enough that he begged out of the game for a 4-minute, 30-second break midway through the fourth quarter as the outcome hung in the balance.

He returned with 4:57 remaining, his team leading by five, and promptly proceeded to annihilate the Lakers with 15 of his team’s final 17 points. The Rockets outscored the Lakers by 12 over that span, averting what would have been another demoralizing loss in a season that’s already seen too many.

“You look at the standings, we’re in the 14th spot and that’s kind of depressing,” Harden said. “We’re just trying to figure it out. I just believe and trust in all my guys, and the coaching staff. We’ll continue to build.”

Good news, James! The win actually bumped the Rockets over the idle Timberwolves into 13th place, and thanks to the incredible congestion in the Western Conference, they’re still only five games out of first place.

Whether they can keep climbing remains to be seen. The only source of consistency has been their inconsistency, with their season breaking down into symmetrical chunks: 1-5, then 8-2, then 2-7, and now 2-0 following Thursday’s win.

But despite Chris Paul finally showing signs of slippage in his 14th season, and a noticeably thinner bench, the Rockets will always have hope that they can turn things around as long as No. 13’s still suiting up.

Welcome back

Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki’s days as a top-tier player have long since passed.

His biggest contribution to the only NBA team he’s ever played for no longer involves buckets, but mentoring the increasingly-worthy successor to his mantle as the face of the franchise, rookie Luka Doncic. (Fun fact: Doncic was born three weeks after the 40-year-old Nowitzki made his NBA debut in Feb. 1999.)

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t awesome to see the big German back on the court in Phoenix for the belated start to his 21st NBA season. True to old form, Nowtzki needed just 46 seconds to score his first bucket, a vintage one-leg fadeaway — off glass, no less!

Nowitzki’s debut made him the first player in NBA history to play 21 campaigns with one team. Indeed, only four other players have ever played that many seasons, period: Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett and the active Vince Carter.

As planned, Nowitzki did not play in the second half, and finished with just those two points in six minutes.

The Mavericks could have used some of their aging superstar’s old magic as the lowly Suns beat them 99-89 to snap a 10-game losing streak.

Show him the money

The latest stop in Nikola Vucevic’s world “Max Me Out” tour took place in Mexico City, where the veteran center carried Orlando to a 97-91 victory over the Bulls with a bravura fourth.

While not as singularly dominant as Harden, Vucevic was more than the Bulls could handle, piling up 10 points and five rebounds in the final period alone. Included in that outburst was his 15-foot jumper to put the Magic ahead for good with 28 seconds remaining.

Vucevic finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, and is now sitting at an impressive 20.8 and 11.8 for the season.

What did Newton know?

If basketballs that get stuck between the rim and the backboard are wedgies, would this be a … ledgie?