HOUSTON -- There was a businesslike atmosphere Monday morning at the Houston Rockets' shootaround for Game 1 of their second-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. But a sidebar conversation emerged when it was officially announced that James Harden finished second to Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors in the MVP voting.
"All of us are pretty upset he didn't win, but our goal is to win the championship," Dwight Howard said.
Added Josh Smith: "It [will] be way more gratifying if we win the NBA championship this year."
Yes, the Rockets aren't happy Harden didn't win the award, but it doesn't diminish his strong season, in which he finished second in the league in scoring (27.4) and first in minutes played (2,981), free throws made (715), free throws attempted (824) and win shares (16.4).
"I think he had an incredible season," Howard said. "We feel like he's our MVP. The main thing is we win the championship."
The Rockets continue to talk about winning a title, something they haven't done since back-to-back championships in 1993-94 and 1994-95. The Rockets have advanced past the first round just twice since 1996-97.
"That's tough, but we're in the second round of the playoffs, and I got better things to worry about, and that's the Clippers," Harden said. "They're a very good team that's rolling right now, and it didn't work out, but there's more of the season to continue to play."
Only two players have won the MVP award with the Rockets: centers Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94) and Moses Malone (1978-79 and 1981-82).
Twenty-five voters felt Harden's season was better than anyone else's in the league. The Rockets leaned on Harden during a regular season in which players on their roster missed a combined 180 games, including Howard's 41, to injuries. Harden missed just one game, due to of a suspension for kicking LeBron James.
While disappointed he didn't win the award, Harden said his goal is to win a title.
"That's what it's about," Harden said. "Obviously, an individual award, the MVP, is amazing. But like I said, we got an amazing opportunity in this locker room, and I'm not going to let one individual award affect what we got going on in this locker room. We still have a great season to play in and some great games ahead of us."