Against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, James Harden scored 35 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 130-104 win.
The Rockets were back at full strength, as Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela were all dealing with nagging injuries. If the Rockets want to make a deep playoff run, their core players need to be healthy and prepared for heavy minutes against the talent in the Western Conference.
Both the Rockets (23-11 after Tuesday night) and Nuggets (23-10 after Tuesday night) are powerhouses in the Western Conferences. In the game, Nikola Jokic added 21 points, as the Nuggets had a two-game winning streak snapped.
Neither team plays stellar defense, especially obvious when Harden shoots 10-17 from the field, including 6-9 from the three-point line. The key to beating the Rockets is forcing Harden into tough shots, because he is willing to attempt any type of shot on the court.
Harden attempts a combined 25.8 three-pointers and free throws, as he’s the only player in the “10-10 club”, which he’s done for four straight seasons now. His efficiency is getting better, with Harden shooting 46% from the field and 38% from the three-point line.
As NBA fans are well-aware of, the early stages of the NBA season doesn’t compare to the intensity of play after the All-Star game. But the Rockets need to establish a winning intensity now, so the chemistry and comradery is there in the postseason. Both are elements they’ve been lacking in the past.
Harden is playing 37.5 minutes per game, the fourth highest mark of his career. The Rockets need to load manage his playing time and spread out the minutes for Harden and Westbrook to ensure that one of them is on the court at all times.