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Wednesday NBA Roundup: James Harden Won't Let Steph Curry Run Away with MVP

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2015

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Stephen Curry made an MVP-caliber statement by sending Chris Paul stumbling to the Staples Center floor Tuesday night, and James Harden promptly responded with a career-high 51 points (16-of-25 shooting, 8-of-9 from three), eight rebounds, six assists and three steals in the Houston Rockets' 115-111 win over the Sacramento Kings Wednesday.  

According to the Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech, Harden became the first player in Rockets history to top the half-century mark twice in one season, having hit the plateau on March 19 against the Denver Nuggets: 

Jenny Dial Creech @jennydialcreech

James Harden is the first Rocket ever to have two 50 point games in one season.

In fact, ESPN Stats & Info noted that Harden is one of four players in franchise history to score 50 points twice in his Rockets career. He just happened to join the esteemed club in the span of two weeks: 

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

James Harden is 1 of 4 Rockets with a pair of 50-point games The others: Hakeem Olajuwon Moses Malone Elvin Hayes All Hall of Famers

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

James Harden's 51 points were a career high. He's the 1st Rockets player with 2 50-pt games in a season http://t.co/cPx7cA66iY

With MVP resumes that are starting to resemble endless scrolls of parchment, Curry and Harden are duking it out for the NBA's highest individual honor with an unprecedented display of statistical one-upmanship that has breathed extra life into the stretch run. 

As if the incessant jockeying for playoff position that's consumed the Western Conference postseason picture hasn't been enough, Curry and Harden have developed new ways to drop jaws and break Twitter night after night. 

Tale of the Tape: Curry vs. Harden
PlayerPPGAPGRPGFG%3P%FTA/G
Stephen Curry23.77.84.248.343.44.4
James Harden27.67.05.744.237.810.2
NBA.com

The duo is linked by its innovative scoring techniques, which are precipitated by aesthetically opposing approaches. While Harden and Curry both boost their teams' respective offensive ratings between 13 and 14 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, the former prefers a more abrasive route to the bucket, with Curry opting for silky smooth teardrops and three-point strokes. 

But as the Rockets' Twitter account pointed out, Harden has been the league's most statistically prolific scorer this season:  

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

Most games this season with: 30+ points: Harden (33) 40+ points: Harden (9) 50+ points: Harden (2, tied)

They also differ in another key regard—and it's not facial-hair volume. 

Several of Harden's superstar peers have been vocal in support of his MVP candidacy, with Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade among his most notable canvassers.  

"I think, with him not having Dwight for as long as he did, he's still competing, still winning games for them," Davis said on The Dan Patrick Show (via Yahoo Sports). "It's unreal. We kind of say, you take one player out of each team and see who would have the most effect [to figure out] who would be MVP. I think just the way James is playing, I think he'd definitely get his way."

Meanwhile, Wade went out of his way to endorse The Beard, according to the Sun Sentinel's Shandel Richardson:

Right now, I would say James Harden. It's tough. Any one of those top guys could be MVP. I would say James Harden from everything he's done for the full season, the entire season. With the injury to Dwight Howard and carrying that team in the tough Western Conference and being right up there. That's pretty impressive and he's done it all season long.

The common thread in both of those answers? Harden's ability to persevere through adversity and carry the Rockets toward the top of the Western Conference standings without Dwight Howard. In the 26 games Howard missed with a right knee injury, the Rockets went 17-9. 

Curry is—and will remain—the front-runner with Golden State sitting pretty in the NBA's overall No. 1 seed after obliterating the competition, including a season-series sweep of the Rockets. 

However, that's no reason to downplay Harden's spectacular campaign and everything he's accomplished in a more demanding environment.  

Around the Association

Russ Triples Up Again

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

For the 10th time in his all-out assault of a season, Russell Westbrook notched a triple-double, piling up 31 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 135-131 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The feat put him in exclusive company, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Guards with 10 triple-doubles in season in last 30 yrs Magic Johnson (5x) Michael Jordan Russell Westbrook Jason Kidd (2x) Fat Lever (2x)

Chandler Parsons scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting in the final frame to give the Mavs the edge in a game that featured wild numbers aplenty.

Just a few for consideration: Three Thunder players had at least 30 points, with Anthony Morrow (32) and Enes Kanter (30) joining Westbrook in the onslaught. Dallas feasted on Kanter's invisible interior defense, though, amassing a ridiculous 72 points in the paint. 

OKC head coach Scott Brooks was clearly apprised of the damage in the lane, and he was none too pleased, according to ESPN.com's Royce Young:

Royce Young @royceyoung

Scott Brooks: "I think they had 72 points in the paint. That's ridiculous."

As a unit, the Mavs shot 61.5 percent from the field and turned the ball over just six times in one of the most uptempo games of the season. Dirk Nowitzki was one of seven Dallas players to finish in double figures, dropping 18 points to join an exclusive scoring fraternity, according to the NBA: 

NBA @NBA

Congrats, @swish41... the 7th player in @NBAHistory to reach 28,000 points! http://t.co/r664pnSiVf

If Oklahoma City's going to defend like this in its hypothetical playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, things will get capital-U ugly.

Contributed by Grant Hughes

 

Cousins Goes Bonkers in Losing Effort 

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 1:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball against the Houston Rockets on April 1, 2015 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or usin
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

DeMarcus Cousins took stat-sheet stuffing to the next level in the Kings' loss, racking up 24 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists, six blocks and three steals in 39 ludicrous minutes of production.  

ESPN Stats & Info explains: 

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

DeMarcus Cousins led Kings (or tied team lead) in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, fouls, FGA, & FTA in loss at Houston

Even if we narrow the criteria just a bit, Cousins still resides in an exclusive realm.

According to Basketball-Reference, the only players with a 20-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist triple-double since 1985 are Charles Barkley, Fat Lever, Larry Johnson, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett and David Lee.

Cousins deserves the postseason spotlight. Hopefully he's able to bask in it soon.   

Paul, Clippers Make a Late Statement

Don Ryan/Associated Press

The Portland Trail Blazers' perimeter defense remains a major work in progress without Wesley Matthews, and that was evident during a second-half collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Despite trailing by as many as 19 points, L.A. outscored Portland 30-24 in the third quarter and 41-30 in the final frame, leading to a 126-122 win that snapped the Blazers' four-game winning streak.  

As a team, the Clippers shot 53.5 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from three as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin (24 points, seven rebounds, eight assists) and J.J. Redick all topped 20 points. 

Paul was simply spectacular a night after getting overshadowed by a certain Curry crossover, totaling a season-high 41 points to go with 17 assists, five rebounds, four steals and one turnover. According to Basketball-Reference, Paul is the only player with a 40-point, 15-assist game this season. 

Point God, indeed. 

The Blazers will wind up conquering the Northwest Division, but the time has come to wonder whether they will wind up hosting a first-round playoff series. If the Clippers can finish with a better record as the No. 5 seed, they would wind up earning home-court advantage in the first round over the fourth-seeded Blazers. 

Turner Triple-Doubles, Boston Triumphs

Evan Turner is one of the NBA's most mercurial players, and the last six weeks have illustrated as much.

In the Boston Celtics' 100-87 victory over the Indiana Pacers, Turner recorded his third triple-double since Feb. 25, posting 13 points (6-of-17 shooting), 12 assists and 11 rebounds in 35 minutes.

According to Celtics announcer Sean Grande, Turner joined elite parquet company in the winning effort:    

Sean Grande @SeanGrandePBP

13-10-12 Boston Celtics with 3 triple-doubles in a season Paul Pierce Antoine Walker Rajon Rondo Larry Bird And now...Evan Turner.

Westbrook is the only player with more triple-doubles this season, while Harden, Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo have each tallied three.

Perhaps more impressive was Kelly Olynyk dropping 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting off the bench with one of the nastiest shiners you'll ever see: 

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Kelly Olynyk’s eye has quite the bump after taking an elbow from a teammate during shootaround http://t.co/uy1G9K5ddY

With Brooklyn's last-second win over the Knicks, Boston is still a half-game back of the Nets for the eighth playoff spot in the East. The Celtics will look to extend their winning streak to three when the Milwaukee Bucks come to town Friday evening.  

The Knicks Owe Brook Lopez a Birthday Present

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Brook Lopez's game-winning tip not only gave the Brooklyn Nets their fifth straight win (on his 27th birthday, no less), but it also helped the New York Knicks maintain their pole position on the No. 1 lottery spot.

Had things gone differently, the Knicks might have earned their 15th victory of the year, which would have pulled them closer than they'd prefer to the 16-59 Minnesota Timberwolves in the upside-down standings.

Lopez finished with 18 points, as Deron Williams led the way with 26 of his own.

Quietly, Brooklyn has been one of the top teams in the East of late, winning eight of its last 10 and showing surprising resiliency; its win over New York came on the second leg of a back-to-back set.

Nobody's making the case for the Nets being a dangerous playoff opponent, but it's fair to call them respectable these days. Come to think of it, maybe Lopez accepting a present from the Knicks isn't such a great idea.

Why risk contaminating a good thing?

Besides, Lopez seems happy with the gift he gave himself, according to Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game:

devin kharpertian @uuords

Brook Lopez, on getting the game-winner on his birthday: "I'll be selfish and give myself a present."

—Contributed by Grant Hughes

John Wall Is an Actual Wizard

When the John Wall instructional dribbling DVD drops, this needs to be one of the last moves ball-handling hopefuls master before they take the floor: 

Sadly, Wall's masterful off-the-dribble move and no-look pass sent Nerlens Noel staggering backward, which ultimately put the Philadelphia 76ers' flat-topped center in position to deny Otto Porter at the rim.

But according to The Washington Post's Jorge Castillo, Wall's not buying that it was a clean block:   

Jorge Castillo @jorgecastillo

Wall said the ref admitted missing the goaltending call on Noel when he blocked Porter after Wall's nifty dribble move and no-look pass.

The Washington Wizards blew past the Sixers, 106-93, with Wall accounting for 13 points and 15 assists in 30 minutes. Wall now ranks third behind Paul (10) and Rajon Rondo (six) with five 15-assist games this season, per Basketball-Reference

Noel's success in March carried over to April, as he accumulated 14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.    

If only he had finished this second-quarter slam with authority:

San Antonio Routs Orlando, Clinches Playoff Spot

For the 18th straight season, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are headed to the postseason.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, few franchises have topped that run:  

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Spurs clinch their 18th straight playoff berth. It's 5th-longest playoff streak in NBA history

Not only has Duncan qualified for the playoffs every year of his career, but San Antonio has set the bar for consistent excellence beyond the NBA, according to Spurs PR's Jordan Howenstine: 

Jordan Howenstine @AirlessJordan

Spurs active streak of 18 straight seasons in playoffs is second longest in all of the four major sports. (Detroit Red Wings, 23 straight)

And how's this for consistent: With the 103-91 win over the Orlando Magic, San Antonio ensured it will be playing postseason basketball for the 25th time (!) in the last 26 years. 

In the wire-to-wire victory, big man Aron Baynes dropped a career-high 18 points off the pine while the team's bench scored a season-high 69 points. Manu Ginobili chipped in 13 points, Marco Belinelli added 12, and Boris Diaw scored 11, as no starter played more than 22 minutes.  

San Antonio's now led by double digits in 18 straight games, and its last 11 wins have come by at least 10 points. 

Death, taxes and the Spurs. 

The Bucks Might Be on to Something

In beating the Chicago Bulls for the first time this season, 95-91, the Milwaukee Bucks made an interesting discovery that could affect a potential playoff series between these two teams: Michael Carter-Williams can do some things on the block.

MCW punished the diminutive Aaron Brooks down low, racking up 21 points while taking just one shot outside of 10 feet.

This is the part where we're supposed to mention that Carter-Williams won't find it so easy to get what he wants on the block with Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich on him. Well, Rose still isn't playing outside of practice, and there's no way to know what his limitations will be upon his return. And Hinrich left Wednesday's game with a knee injury—just the latest in the ongoing series of maladies he's faced this season.

Maybe the Bulls would slot Jimmy Butler onto Carter-Williams, but that would leave more versatile (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and dangerous-from-the-perimeter (Khris Middleton) threats with lesser defenders to worry about.

We're not dealing with earth-shattering revelations here, but the Bucks finding a worthwhile use for MCW—especially one that could make an impact on a postseason series—carries some intrigue.

—Contributed by Grant Hughes

April Fools, from the Bucks

For days, the Bucks had been teasing a new color scheme on social media. It turns out that was all a facade. 

Instead, the Central Division up-and-comers unveiled a new logo at halftime of their 95-91 win over the Bulls:

We didn't like the orange and green much, anyway.  

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