NBA teams have to get drastic if they want to stop Houston Rockets star James Harden. Leave him 1-on-1, and Harden can drop 40 points with ease. Try to use a zone, and Harden will exploit its holes.
Throw multiple bodies at him, however, and you might have a chance. That’s Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone’s thinking, at least. The Nuggets came out with two guys on Harden during Tuesday’s 130-104 loss to the Rockets.
At first, it looked like the strategy would work, as Harden had 15 points in the first half. But the 30-year-old Harden dropped 20 points in the second half, finishing the game with 35 points.
While that defensive strategy might frustrate most players, Harden doesn’t mind. In fact, he considers double-teams to be a sign of respect, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
"Me and Coach [Mike] D'Antoni talk about it all the time. That means that I'm doing something right, [that] I'm pretty good."
Malone agreed with that line of thinking, saying teams will do anything possible to keep the ball out of Harden’s hands.
As the box score indicates, that strategy wasn’t super effective Tuesday. Harden still went off for 35 points in a 26-point win. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni offered up why that was the case, saying Harden is used to seeing double-teams and knows how to adjust to them.
"We've seen it a thousand times. Every game," D'Antoni said of doubles on Harden. "Guys were making some shots. We're getting more comfortable with it. Russell was really good. It shouldn't work in theory. If you just double [Harden], he throws it to Russell and it's 4-on-3. We should score every time. ... We're not surprised by it. They don't rush. You know, you see something that's kind of odd. Now it's not odd, so we should be able to handle it."
With the win, the Rockets improved to 23-11. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference.
The added defensive attention hasn’t slowed Harden down at all. He’s once again leading the league in scoring, and is currently averaging a career-high 38.3 points per game.
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