Houston Rockets 111, San Antonio Spurs 105: The Incredible Evolution of James Edward Harden, Jr.

Often times in the NBA, a player has a performance that makes fans speechless. Take D’Angelo Russell’s recent 44-point showing to bring the Brooklyn Nets back from a 28-point deficit to beat the Sacramento Kings, or, earlier in the season, when Derrick Rose turned back the clock and scored 50 against the Utah Jazz. There have been several of these types of performances in the game of basketball that make our jaw drop, have us scratch our head in befuddlement or some combination of both.

James Edward Harden, Jr., however, is of a different making. Every time we think James can’t best himself, he changes the lens through which you look at him. It has been a great privilege, nay, honor, to witness the evolution of Harden since he came to Houston in 2012. By now, astute Rockets fans know how the guard out of Arizona State has added layer upon layer to his game with each passing season.

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San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets on 3/22/19

Following a loss filled with malaise, tired legs and a Herculean-moment by James Harden, the Rockets will look to bounce back from their Wednesday overtime defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies with a moderately important home contest against the San Antonio Spurs tonight. This will be the Rockets’ eighth game in 12 days, a brutal stretch for a team that has been vocal about resting players in order to gear up for a deep playoff run. Despite the public lip service, Harden and Paul have continued to log heavy minutes as the team continues to fight for the three seed, hoping for home court in the first round and a potentially friendlier matchup in the second round.

Though the schedule has been packed with games, the Rockets have largely responded well, winning five of the past seven. Chris Paul seems downright bouncy, weaving around picks and initiating offense for himself and others. Though the Point God has been a lot better, and has helped take some of the load off of Harden’s broad shoulders and pain-riddled neck, he’s still not the same attacking bigs all the way to the paint. We won’t know whether he’s saving himself for the playoffs or if he just can’t do it to the level of last year until the postseason begins. The Rockets’ have also received a huge boost from the return of Danuel House Jr., even if he showed his youth in the closing moments against Memphis.

The Spurs are riding their own wave of momentum, entering Friday’s game. Before their loss to the Heat on Wednesday, the Greg Popovich-led unit had won nine straight including victories over the conference leading Warriors and Bucks. The shift for San Antonio, has been their defense, which was one of the league’s worst during their patented Rodeo Road Trip. With the team figuring out that side of the ball, the Spurs’ offense continues to be fueled by lots of mid range jump shots and smart, timely passing. For years, the Spurs prided themselves on the simple idea that if they didn’t beat themselves they would always be a difficult out, and throughout most of this new era, players and injuries have made this a more strenuous task. And despite the ugly moments of the year, here they are, like a roach surviving a nuclear explosion.

As of current seeding, the Rockets and Spurs would play one another in the playoffs, so it figures both coaching staffs may keep this game pretty vanilla, even with possible seeding on the line. The Rockets are 2-1 versus the Spurs this season, losing the first one in San Antonio. In the second and third matchup, neither game was in doubt. Tonight’s game being in Houston might make the difference in the matchup between two of the league’s hottest teams. Currently, the Spurs are the only team in the Western Conference playoffs to have a losing record on the road (13-22) while the Rockets have been above average at the Toyota Center (26-10) after a shaky 0-4 start in the building. Like games with the undersized Rockets, this one could come down to rebounding, where the Spurs rarely give up offensive rebounds, and are middle of the pack on cleaning up their own misses.

Prediction: Rockets 109 – Spurs 101

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Houston Rockets 121, Atlanta Hawks 105: Doused by the House

This was a game of two halves, much like the team’s prior game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But what has been a consistent positive development since his return from his two-month contract stalemate is the revelation that is Danuel House. This website’s founder, Rahat Huq, opined about House’s fit with the team going forward:

What is so critical about House is that he is not simply the 3-and-D player that Rockets have recruited to halo James Harden and Chris Paul these past two seasons. In the past, those two players had done most of the heavy lifting, taking turns being the primary playmakers on the court and dishing to more stationary three-point shooters like Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green, and Iman Shumpert. Eric Gordon is equally lethal on the catch-and-shoot, but he is also able to create off the dribble, though that type of play has been less apparent this season vs. last. Austin Rivers this season gives you that type of two-way play, but his three-point shooting has been maddeningly inconsistent.

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