HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets are nearly at the halfway mark of the season with a stunning 31 victories, second most in the NBA.
James Harden, their star player, has pushed them to this point and he displayed his superior talents once again Tuesday night. He recorded another triple-double, his 11th of the season, in a 121-114 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Harden's season should receive more acclaim by the day. When he records a triple-double, the Rockets are 10-1 on the season, and his numbers are not empty. Substantial would be the proper word, including his efforts on Tuesday -- 40 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes, the kind of numbers that place him with the greats in league history.
He now has consecutive 40-point triple-double games, joining Russell Westbrook, Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich as the only players to achieve this. (Harden had a triple-double Sunday at Toronto.)
Trevor Ariza, who won an NBA title with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, is one of a few on this Rockets team qualified to discuss what it's like playing with an elite scorer.
"He can score the basketball a whole lot of different ways," Ariza said of Harden. "He can't really be stopped by nobody."
Harden also became the first player with multiple games of 40 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a single season since Oscar Robertson in 1964-65. Think about the number of Hall of Fame players who have graced the NBA since Robertson's feat. It’s a who's who of stars.
But these performances by Harden are becoming so common that you sometimes expect them.
"As long as I play the right way, man, and be unselfish and we win games, all that is going to come," Harden said. "I don't put too much into it, I don't think about it much. If it happens, it happens. But most important thing is winning and it's been a total turnaround from last year. I think all you guys can tell the difference. Winning and good things will come and individual stats."
Corey Brewer, another one of a few Rockets qualified to speak about playing with an elite scorer, won a title with Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. Brewer, who has a 51-point game on his resume, added another name to the list of outstanding scorers.
"They both can score the ball really well and I played with Kevin Love [in Minnesota] when he was Kevin Love and he was scoring all the time," Brewer said. "Those are prolific scorers, for real. James is probably the best, just because Dirk's game is totally different. James handles the ball, he posts up, he does everything, and he passes. You look up there, you got 40-10-10 every night like it's nothing."
Of course, Harden isn’t doing this alone. To get the assists, people have to make shots. And Tuesday night, minus sixth man Eric Gordon (sprained left big toe), Ryan Anderson scored 13 points, Ariza had 16, Montrezl Harrell contributed 14 and there was a combined 35 points off the bench from Nene Hilario, Sam Dekker and Brewer.
With Gordon out, coach Mike D'Antoni used only eight players, one of the thinnest rotations he has had for a game this season. The Rockets pushed their lead to a game-high 23 points before the Hornets rallied in the fourth quarter, with bursts of 21-2 and 16-0 to take a one-point lead. Houston regained the lead for good when Anderson nailed a corner 3, thanks to a Harden pass, followed by Harden's driving layup, courtesy of a Harrell screen.
"He's one of the premier players in this league," Hornets center Frank Kaminsky said. "He can do everything. He can pass, shoot, drive and he shoots the ball pretty much from anywhere and he makes it. A guy like that is a handful and is almost impossible to stop."
Last season seems like a decade ago after witnessing what's happening with D'Antoni's group. The Rockets' 31 victories tied the franchise record for the best mark though 40 games. In the 1996-97 and 1993-94 seasons, the Rockets went 31-9.
Those seasons ended with a Western Conference finals appearance in '97 and an NBA title in '94. What the future holds for this group is uncertain, but the expectations for a deep playoff run exists. The Rockets didn't reach 31 victories until March 6 of last season and at this point last year, the team was 19-19.
"We're playing well right now," Brewer said. "I feel like we jelled together really fast, quicker than people thought we would. The way we play, we're tough to beat. We got a lot of guys that can score and shoot, and the game is easy when we're out there."