Does a statistical ceiling exist for James Harden?
On Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Harden once again flamed up the opposition — this time for 61 points against the Knicks. That mark ties him for the most points scored at renovated MSG with Kobe Bryant.
And not just that, but the 61 points is a career-high for Harden, and it also set a new franchise record for the Houston Rockets (27-20) in the 114-110 victory over New York.
There was also more history made that night: Harden became the first player in NBA history to attempt 20 three-pointers and 20 free-throw shots in the same game. And that’s not all, he’s also the first player since Shaquille O’Neal to put up 60 points and 15 rebounds on the stat sheet in a single game — Shaq’s feat was 19 years ago in 2000.
Over the past five starts, he’s put up at least 50 points in three of those games. He averages 52.2 points-per-game during this stretch. For the season, he now has five 50-point games.
With all of the injuries that the Rockets are dealing with, Harden’s extraordinary streak has helped Houston maintain an above average record at 6-5 in the month of January.
But that record is at tremendous threat of going back to .500 facing off against the 36-14 Toronto Raptors. There is a bright sport for the Rockets though: They’re home, where they carry a steaming 17-7 record at Toyota Center in Houston
But a victory tonight, and in the near future, will be a struggle to come by. And that’s due to the Rockets still being without both Chris Paul and Clint Capela because of injuries.
There’s a silver lining, however.
On Thursday, Chris Paul was in action with his team during practice, and head coach Mike D’Antoni upgraded Paul’s status to questionable for tonight. Paul has been out five weeks due to a hamstring injury, this dating back to December 20 in a 101-99 loss to the Miami Heat.
D’Antoni is leaving the decision in Chris Paul’s hands.
“If it’s not Friday, it’s Sunday [against the Orlando Magic],” D’Antoni told ESPN. “If it’s not Sunday, it’s Monday [against the New Orleans Pelicans]. But it’s close.”
Paul, a nine-time All-Star, has been effective for Houston this season On the stat sheet, he’s averaging numbers of 15.6 PPG, 8.0 APG and 4.0 RPG in 26 games.
They need that help desperately, because despite Harden’s historic shooting, the Rockets are only slightly above average with a 3-2 record when Harden drops 50 points.
For Toronto, their last game was on Wednesday where they would take a 110-106 loss at the Indiana Pacers. Kawhi Leonard (rest), Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) and OG Anunoby (personal) all sat out. Before the loss to Indiana, the Raptors had won eight out of their last nine games. They’re 9-3 in the month of January, and this despite an inconsistent rotation.
And that’s because of their deep bench. Even though they took a loss, their bench was able to erase a 15-point deficit against the Pacers. What’s even more impressive was that this was done on a night of a back-to-back. Toronto is 8-2 in these situations.
With Houston banged up and Toronto hitting a peak with their bench with Kawhi Leonard back, the Rockets are going to need another historic night from James Harden.
Because if not, then Houston, you have a problem.
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The Toronto Raptors are sitting pretty coming into tonight’s game. Not only are they facing off against a banged up Houston Rockets team, but they also come in with literally all of the statistical advantages. In points-per-game, Toronto has a slight +1 advantage averaging 113.8. With shooting the ball, it’s another edge: +3 with 47.2 FG%. It’s another +3 on the glass with the Raptors pulling down 45.0 RPG. And last but not least, Toronto is +2 on the defensive side of the ball tallying 108.2 PA. (The Raptors also rank better in steals/blocks.)
Sorry, Houston. You’ve got a lot of problems. And having no edge in any statistical category is a tremendous one for the Rockets. On the offensive side of the ball, Houston tallies 112.2 PPG — a -1 disadvantage. From the field, Houston lacks behind Toronto with a -3 mark at 44.5 FG%. In the rebounding game, it’s another -3 for the Houston Rockets. They sit at 42.0 RPG. And on defense? You guessed it: -2 allowing 110.7 PPG against them throughout the season. Without Paul and Capela, the production obviously drops.
Houston usually has a knack of stepping up their quality of play when they face off against a top team in the league, however, they did get smacked by the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, 121-93. In Houston’s defense, they were on the road and are much better at home, where they are tonight.
Being at Toyota Center and James Harden being on a historic streak at the moment, I can see Houston making it a competitive game, but it’s going to take a lot of production from Harden (and energy) to beat Toronto. The Raptors are deep this season. Not just in starting lineup talent, but all across the board when you look at the bench.
With Chris Paul and Clint Capela being banged up and Eric Gordon not being the best shooter for the Rockets, Harden will have to beat Toronto himself. Just Kawhi Leonard alone will be tough for Harden to defeat, a deep Toronto Raptors squad seems like mission impossible. Harden’s high-point production brings a competitive game at home, but the 36-14 Raptors will just be too much for Harden to get a win for his Houston Rockets in the end.