Whatever distance once existed between Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the NBA’s MVP race now appears negligible. Harden has put up unprecedented numbers that rival Westbrook’s gaudy stats, and his Houston Rockets came into Tuesday seven games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder and just one game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 2 spot in the West standings. Harden is doing as much to help his team win as any player in the league, and he could be developing the most durable MVP narrative around because of it.
Harden added to that body of work with another historic performance in Tuesday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. By following Sunday’s huge night against the Toronto Raptors with 40 points (11-of-24 FG, 7-of-14 3FG, 11-of-14 FT), 15 rebounds, and 10 assists, Harden became just the fourth player in NBA history to put up 40-point triple-doubles in consecutive games.
He joins a select group:
Four players in NBA history with consecutive 40-pt triple doubles: Harden, Westbrook, Jordan & Maravich. One has been MVP. Might soon be 2
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 11, 2017
Yet Harden’s Tuesday was not notable only for his stats. He also came through when it mattered most for Houston. Up 108-90 after a Corey Brewer three-pointer with 8:04 remaining in regulation, the Rockets coughed up the lead during a 21-2 run that ended with a Frank Kaminsky three-pointer with just 2:27 on the clock.
That lead-erasing run coincided with Harden’s return to the court, but he made up for it by owning crunch time. He put up six of Houston’s eight points in the final two minutes and provided a steadying hand offensively to finish off the 121-114 win.
Harden and Westbrook have both put up enough incredible stat lines this season that it’s not worth saying one is especially more worthy of MVP honors than the other, but this is the kind of game that could eventually make Harden the clear favorite. When a player’s team wins more, he tends to get more opportunities to show how he makes a difference. Tuesday’s big night certainly qualified as just that.
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