Houston Rockets vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 PM ET, Friday, January 6, 2017
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
|503||HOUSTON||4.5 (-110)||223 (-110)||-210
TV: 7 p.m. ROOT (Houston), FSN Florida (Orlando)
PREDICTION: Magic 113, Rockets 110
James Harden is the engine of the NBA’s most exciting offense.
The Houston Rockets entered Thursday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder as the third-ranked offense in the league, scoring 112.3 points per 100 possessions. Switching to raw statistics and the numbers look even more eye-popping – their 114.6 points per game is second in the league.
And Harden is a big part of that. In many ways, he is all of that.
Harden entered Thursday averaging 28.4 points per game with 8.2 rebounds per game and a league-best 11.9 assists per game. He posts a 33.7 percent usage rate – essentially meaning one-third of every Rockets possession ends with Harden taking a shot or turning it over.
Russell Westbrook is not the only one who is racking up triple-doubles. Harden’s 23-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist game against the Washington Wizards marked his third straight triple-double.
The streak was just broken in Houston’s 116-114 win over Oklahoma City on Thursday night. Harden posted 26 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists, dishing out a free throw assist to Nene for the game-winning points.
That does not count to his assist total. But Harden is where the Rockets go first, second and third, trusting him to make the right play.
His statistical outbursts do not feel any different, it would seem, because coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense seems to be the perfect fit for Harden’s skills.
“I’ve never seen it done before,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle. “It felt no different. Obviously, I made shots. Just getting guys involved, guys made shots. And I still thought we could have played better.
“We had a couple opportunities we missed open 3s, missed layups, a dunk I never really miss. Overall, it felt like a normal game, other than I made more shots.”
Harden has nine triple-doubles this season, behind only Westbrook. He still has the ability to get to the line at will and score points in huge bunches. Now he has added the passing to go with that.
Triple-doubles are not easy to do. The league saw just 75 triple-doubles last year. The league has seen 42 this year nearing the midway point. Twenty-five of them are by Harden and Westbrook.
This is in the NBA. So seeing eye-popping numbers like this is both surprising and not surprising. These are the best players in the world, after all. With the way teams in the league play today with 3-point shooting and up-tempo offenses, it is not surprising in a way to see such gifted playmakers dominating box scores.
“The way the game is being played now with more shots, it gives guys a lot of opportunity to get rebounds and a lot of opportunity to get rebounds,” Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton said. “I’m not blown away because of the style of play that is being played in the league right now. It’s definitely tough, but there are a lot more opportunities out there with the game being played faster, with more shots and teams playing faster.”
But triple-doubles are hard to come by. Elfrid Payton has three triple-doubles to his name, including back-to-back triple doubles in his rookie year in 2015. No player has averaged a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson in 1962. To see two players flirting with it is nothing short of historic.
That will be part of the challenge the Magic’s struggling defense will take on when Harden and the Rockets come to town Fon riday night.