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James Harden plays through knee pain during Houston Rockets' win over Milwaukee Bucks

From NBA media reports

* Recap: Rockets 115, Bucks 111

James Harden already has done lots to put himself at or near the top of the early-season MVP race, helping the Houston Rockets to a 24-4 record with 13 of those victories coming on their current winning streak. One thing that would argue his case more loudly would be for Harden to miss a game or three and Houston to unravel in his absence.

Some thought they might happen Saturday, due to the bruise of Harden’s right knee incurred less than 24 hours before the Rockets’ home game against Milwaukee. But distinguishing pain from the risk of further injury enabled the NBA’s leading scorer to play against the Bucks, a plan that apparently will remain in place, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon:

Harden hurt the knee when he crashed into the basket support after being fouled by San Antonio Spurs guard Brandon Paul during the Rockets’ victory Friday. He was considered a game-time decision Saturday night, then went on to score a game-high 31 points as Houston extended its winning streak to 13 games with a 115-111 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

Harden, who leads the NBA in scoring (31.5 points per game) and ranks second in assists (9.3), said he didn’t know how long pain in the knee would be a problem. However, he made it clear that he has no intention to miss any games, saying he’d get treatment on the Rockets’ off day Sunday and be ready to play Monday against the Utah Jazz. Harden, who was 8-of-21 from the floor against the Bucks, acknowledged that the soreness in his knee significantly limited his explosiveness.

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden, who missed a total of only two games over the previous three seasons. “Move on to the next game.”

Looks like Harden – barring some malady more significant – will be chasing the MVP award that eluded him last season without that measure applied to some: “How did his team fare when he wasn’t in the lineup?” Like LeBron James, the other top MVP contender, Harden intends to win it by playing, not by not playing.

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