James Harden could not do it all in Houston’s 95-85 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night. The newest Rocket had seemingly done it all in the season’s first two games, compiling 82 points, good enough for an average of 41 points per game. While those pair of games were fantastic is every facet, Saturday’s back to earth performance couldn’t come at a better time for the Rockets because a reality check was much needed.
Face it, Harden is no Kobe Bryant. He has yet to prove that he can consistently single-handily lift his team to a victory. Very few can. In fact, even Bryant couldn’t lead his Lakers to a win on Friday despite totaling 40 points. In Harden’s defense, he hasn’t really had the opportunity.
With the Thunder, it was Kevin Durant’s team, and in all the tense moments the ball automatically rested in his hands. If the first two games of the season were any indication, Harden is well on his way to being labeled as a one of the few “closers” the league consists of. That’s the thing, though. A brisk 96 minutes cannot determine a season. The Rockets will need more then just James Harden to compete in a stacked Western Conference. And their loss on Saturday proved that point cleanly.
Harden went 8-for-24 from the field, collecting 24 points in total. He also logged 41 minutes, marking his third straight game in which he has surpassed the 40-minute plateau. It should be noted that he tweaked his ankle slightly in the first half, but it did not seem to affect him.
While 24 points doesn’t come across as an “off” night per se, you get the sense that it was.
After scoring a quick ten points in the first quarter, the Trail Blazers held Harden in check over the next three. Portland’s lengthy forwards and sneaky guards created havoc, as Harden had to work a tad harder to put the ball in the hole with lesser frequency. In his previous two outings, the strong guard attacked the basket with ease, getting all the way to the rim against the soft interiors’ of the Pistons and Hawks. On Saturday, though, he found himself forcing the issue a bit more. He settled for perimeter shots with greater regularity and took a few more ill-advised shots than he usually does, particularly on isolations.
But the fact that Harden racked up 24 points and the Rockets lost should come as a concern, confidently assuming that the newly acquired guard won’t finish the year averaging 41 points. On that note, Houston’s coaching staff would be pleased if he averaged 24 points per game, let alone 30. The central point is, production from others outside of Harden will basically determine the outcome of their 2012-2013 campaign.
Jeremy Lin had himself a decent night on Saturday, compiling 13 points and seven assists to go along with three steals. A night after registering up 17 points, Marcus Morris found himself as a main contributor again, generating 13 points with a plus-minus of +19, which led Houston. In spite of minimal court time, Morris has found a way to be efficient and effective, much like Harden is when he is clicking.
However, the rest of the scoring load has been scattered across the board for the Rockets. Harden, however, has made up for that with two big scoring games to overshadow Houston’s minimal overall production from role players.
Thus far, Omer Asik has hit the boards hard, collecting 34 rebounds over his past two contests, but those 34 rebounds become less valuable when he only contributes four points on the offensive side of the ball. Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson are in the same boat too—minimal offensive production, but solid rebounding.
The Rockets certainly have a bright future in store with Lin and Harden stabilizing their backcourt, and Asik holding down a young front court. However, if Saturday was any indication of how the Rockets will play when Harden is human, they’re in for a rocky season.