Houston Rockets guard James Harden, in the midst of an amazing stretch of high-usage, ultra-productive basketball, has encountered various defenses designed to mute his impact.
For lengthy stretches on Monday, the Denver Nuggets used aggressive measures to force Harden to give up the ball and embrace facilitating the offense to an unusual degree.
Harden attempted only two shots over the opening 22:10 of the first half, and his initial attempt inside the 3-point arc came with 27.9 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Still, the Rockets rolled to a 125-113 victory that extended their home-court winning streak to 10 games.
Houston (23-16) plays another big home game Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks (28-11) at Toyota Center. The game features Harden and the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo as frontrunners in the league MVP race.
"I don't care about that. I just care about winning," Antetokounmpo said. "It's all about winning. If we win, it's going to take care of itself."
Against Denver, the Rockets showcased their offensive versatility while Harden further gathered belief that he can rely on his teammates when teams go to the extreme in an attempt to thwart his influence.
"Everybody got their confidence and got it going, but it's been like that," Harden said after his 32 points and 14 assists helped snap the Nuggets' five-game winning streak. "We've just got to continue to keep that confidence and keep shooting our shot and, defensively, getting after it.
"These guys are stepping up big time for us and we're going to need that. It feels like every single game I see a double team or two on the ball mostly every possession. And so, I've got to figure out ways to impact the game, figure out ways to not only score but get guys involved."
With Denver intent to keep Harden out of the scoring mix, he produced more first-half assists (seven) than shot attempts (six). That also opened the door for center Clint Capela to rampage inside en route to a career-high 31 points, and for P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green to feast on open perimeter looks.
Tucker and Green combined for 42 points, making 13 of 21 3-point shots.
Milwaukee is one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in offensive (113.5 points per 100 possessions) and defensive (104.3) efficiency, and the only team in the top five in both. The Nuggets are one of the two other teams in the top 10, and the Rockets handled Denver with ease.
The Bucks altered their defensive strategy for stretches in defeating the Utah Jazz 114-102 on Monday, switching positions 1-4 more than usual in an attempt to keep the Jazz off balance.
"I think it helped sometimes," said Antetokounmpo, averaging 26.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
"It kept the people we were guarding guessing. They don't know what we're going to do. And I think that's why we switched around a little bit. We were able to get some deflections, get some stops, and get some buckets."
--Field Level Media