James Harden scored a career-high 61 points and added 15 rebounds and five steals as the Houston Rockets beat the New York Knicks 114-110 on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
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Harden is averaging 52.2 points per game in his last five outings. He has scored 50 or more points five times this season.
Allonzo Trier had 31 points and 10 boards for the 10-36 Knicks, who have lost seven straight games and 15 of their last 16. The Rockets improved to 27-20.
Unstoppable Harden Makes Rockets Terrifying Once Healthy
Zach Kram of The Ringer highlighted some bewildering Harden stats Wednesday. Keep in mind: This was before Harden's career-best scoring night at the Garden.
Kram noted Harden would be the league's scoring leader even without free throws or the existence of the three-point line. Even more remarkably, Harden has the best true shooting percentage in league history among players with at least a 35.0 usage rate, per Kram.
It's gotten to the point that hearing what Harden did on a given night isn't that surprising. He had 36 points at the half and 49 points and 12 rebounds after the third quarter. Even though he was facing the 10-win Knicks, who tout one of the league's worst defenses, Harden is breaking basketball right now.
That makes the Rockets a dangerous team. Despite being without Chris Paul for 21 games and counting, Clint Capela for five and counting and Eric Gordon for 11, the Rockets sit fifth in the Western Conference.
Granted, they aren't nearly as stingy defensively as they were last season (25th in efficiency this year compared to sixth last year, per ESPN.com), but that may not matter much if Harden stays this hot.
Furthermore, the Rockets could keep climbing in the West standings.
First place seems like a foregone conclusion for the Golden State Warriors, who look invincible with DeMarcus Cousins down low. The Denver Nuggets have also jumped out to a 31-14 record entering Wednesday.
But the Rockets are only two games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for third, and when Paul and Capela return, they can make a run toward that No. 3 seed. That would likely stave off a date with the Warriors until the conference finals.
Last season, the Rockets took the Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals despite being without Paul for the final two games. If the quartet of Harden, Paul, Capela and Gordon is good to go for the playoffs, the Rockets could again be the Warriors' biggest threat out West.
Faried Gives Rockets Crucial Post Presence in Capela's Absence
Rockets big man Kenneth Faried played his second game with the team Wednesday after the Brooklyn Nets bought out him out over the weekend. The 29-year-old looked at home alongside his new teammates as he posted 11 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks. His boundless energy caused problems on both ends of the floor, and he also showed promising chemistry with Harden, who found him for a few easy chances.
With Capela out for at least a month as he recovers from thumb surgery, Houston needed another big to help stem the bleeding until his return. If Wednesday is any indication, Faried will do just that.
There are some potential downsides, however. On defense, the 6'8" Faried could have trouble sticking with some taller big men. On offense, he can't spread the floor.
Still, Faried's boundless energy should help on defense, and he's in line to get a bunch of easy buckets as teams collapse on Harden when he drives the lane.
Also, the Rockets are getting a well-rested player while other veterans have endured a half-season grind. In fact, Faried hasn't played much over the past few years, which is something head coach Mike D'Antoni jokingly referenced when asked about Houston's latest addition:
D'Antoni isn't wrong. Faried played only 14.4 minutes per game in 32 contests last season and suited up for the Nets just 12 times before heading to Houston. You could sense Faried's happiness to be back out on the court after an exuberant dunk:
Most importantly, Faried gives the Rockets a solid big behind Capela when he's back. He'd be an excellent asset off the bench in the playoffs, particularly if he's providing 10-15 minutes per night running a pace faster than nearly anyone else on the court.
Faried could end up being a huge steal for the Rockets' stretch run.
Both teams play next on Friday.
The Rockets return home for a matchup with the Toronto Raptors. The Knicks hit the road but won't travel far to take on the Nets.