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Rockets need a dominant James Harden

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets' MVP candidate, their best player over the course of an 82-game season, has produced just one dominant game in these playoffs.

On Sunday in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal series, Rockets guard James Harden has to be special against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Very special.

“I think he’s going to be very ready,” guard Jason Terry said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think -- I know. I’ve been watching his body language, watching him the other morning on the plane [flying from Los Angeles]. I just understand [that] he knows what he wants to bring to this team and what he’s brought all season long. It’s nothing different. He just knows he’s going to come in with the mentality [to] attack.”

Harden has shot just 35 percent from the floor the past two games, and he has made just 21.4 percent of his 3-point field goals. In this series, Harden is averaging 24.5 points but shooting just barely over 40 percent.

“I mean, I can’t shoot 100 percent all of the time,” Harden said. “I’m going to miss some shots. I’m human. That’s the way it is.”

Harden sat for all but 10 seconds of the fourth quarter in Thursday’s dramatic Game 6 victory over the Clippers. Rockets coach Kevin McHale kept Harden on the bench not so much because he shot 1-for-7 in the third quarter of that contest but because the players on the floor played with a better flow.

Don’t expect McHale to do it again with the season on the line once again Sunday afternoon. McHale gambled in sitting Harden in an elimination Game 6 contest, mainly with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer playing so well from the perimeter and on drives to the basket.

Those are things Harden does so well.

He is tied for seventh in the playoffs, with 6.7 points on drives to the basket, and his frequency on offensive transition possessions is third on the team (22.4 percent). Harden is hard to stop in transition because he can beat you with step-back jumpers, drives on which he draws fouls and his ability to make smart decisions with the ball. Harden is excellent at finding open men through traffic for layups and outside for open jumpers.

During the regular season, Harden finished second in the league in points generated, with 44.5 per game through points scored and points created through assists. Harden was also second among all non-point guards in the league, with seven assists per game.

A well-rounded Harden is what’s needed Sunday, and the Rockets haven’t seen enough of that through two rounds of the postseason. He had a wonderful Game 3 in the opening round, with a playoff career-high 42 points against the Dallas Mavericks. In Game 2 of the semifinal series, he produced a 32-point and seven-assist contest.

Now the season is on the line, and yes, Harden can’t do it alone. Yet he definitely needs to become a dominant force in scoring, passing and rebounding.

That hasn’t occurred enough in this series or these playoffs. The Rockets need him if they expect to play next week in Oakland in the Western Conference finals.

“That’s what it’s about: It’s about being unselfish, and you’re not going to get credit for every play,” Harden said. “So that’s what you have teammates for, and those guys showed a great case of that, especially in the fourth quarter. At this point, it’s about winning and doing the small things to get your team to victory.”