Harden on when team is locked in: 'It's fun'
The best player on the team can definitely set the tone for the rest of the players. That best player can also lead by example. There’s little doubt that is what has happened over the last two games for the Houston Rockets as they’ve turned a brief two-game losing streak into a two-game winning streak.
James Harden is fifth in the NBA in scoring at 24.5 points per game. And over his last 5 games he’s averaging 28.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6 assists per game. Each of those figures is well above his season average, but it’s his ramped up intensity and focus on defense that has set the tone for the Rockets last two comfortable victories.
“I thought the last two nights, James was fantastic on both sides of the ball,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. “Really did a nice job fighting (Arron) Afflalo in the post. James is strong, really strong and is able to hold guys out of there. That was big for us.
“He knows how valuable he is to our team on both sides of the ball,” McHale said. “He’s got to defend. That’s a tough spot in this league. He’s one of the top offensive guys in the league and he knows how hard it is to guard that spot and he need that spot guarded. He’s done a tremendous job.
“Everybody as a player, especially when you’re as young as James is, you’re always evolving and getting better. His evolution has got to be on that defensive side.”
He helped hold Harrison Barnes to 5-of-16 shooting on Friday night and then held Afflalo to 6-of-17 shooting and just 16 points. Afflalo is 10th in the league in scoring at 22.1 points per game.
“I wanted to make a conscious effort to just stay locked in when I was guarded him,” Harden said about his effort against Afflalo.
“Ever since coming back from injury, (trying to) play with that injury kind of slowed me down and kept me of off my defense a little bit,” Harden said. “I’m just trying to pick it up and show my teammates, I’ve got their backs.
“The intensity that I bring on defense is going to rally my team together,” Harden said. “It’s my job as a leader to go out and do that.”