PHOENIX — Doing something no one has done since Wilt Chamberlain was terrorizing the paint, James Harden scoffs at the notion that his 30-point scoring streak is draining for the Houston Rockets guard.
“Nah, nah… Why, because I’m scoring the ball more?” Harden replied when asked if his streak of 26 straight games of scoring 30 or more points is more taxing on him. “I love the game of basketball. I don’t worry about getting drained or getting tired. I am going to play basketball. I don’t worry about everything else. I hoop.”
The Rockets guard enters Monday’s game at Phoenix with the third-longest streak of 30-point games, trailing Chamberlain’s longer streaks of 65 and 31.
During his streak, Harden is averaging 38.8 minutes per game and has logged 40 or more minutes 14 times. He’s scored 40 or more points on 19 occasions this season, including in 13 of the last 20 games.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni says he tries his best to monitor during games when he thinks Harden is exerting a ton of energy and when to get him rest. D’Antoni keeps in mind whenever there are several breaks in games such as timeouts, free throws and reviews.
“The only thing I worry about is that during the game that he goes too long and too many minutes and he’s doing too much stuff,” D’Antoni said at Rockets shootaround Monday before playing the Suns. “That is why we try to take him out at the end of the first quarter so that he can withstand 36, 38 minutes.”
“But it’s also how the game goes, sometimes there’s a lot of timeouts, a lot of foul shots, a lot of interruptions,” D’Antoni added. “And I am looking out there and he can play an extra two minutes because [the flow of the game] hasn’t gone up and down and other times, like Chris [Paul], it just goes crazy for four minutes and I got to get him out because he exerted a lot of energy. So it’s a lot [of] the moment.”
Harden is coming off a 43-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist, 6-steal game in a win over Utah on Saturday. Harden and Larry Bird are the only players with multiple career games of 40 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals according to Elias Sports Bureau.
D’Antoni was asked if he’s worried about keeping his star fresh for the playoffs and Harden’s current “load management” — a term the Los Angeles Lakers used Saturday to explain why LeBron James didn’t play at Golden State after logging 40 minutes in an overtime win over the Clippers on Thursday after returning from a groin injury.
“Until they can show me the science behind it, and they know for sure, they’re guessing like we’re guessing,” D’Antoni said of all the different ways to keep stars fresh for the playoffs. “And when something goes bad, it’s I told you. Usually one guy prevails in the playoffs, one team, [and] everybody else is too tired. No, that team’s five may be better.”
The Rockets have seen all kinds of defenses geared toward slowing Harden down or at the very least designed to make him work harder and expend more energy to score.
“I mean, I’ve seen so many different ones,” Harden said. “You got teams just running guys at me at halfcourt before I cross halfcourt. You got zones, you have double, triple-teams, it’s everything. It’s pretty cool because you got to figure out ways to attack it, figure out ways to still be aggressive throughout those coverages and then you still got to get your teammates involved. It’s a game within a game, I have fun with it, I enjoy it.”
D’Antoni says opponents will keep trying to find ways to slow down his star.
“Oh yeah, they’ve guarded him on the side, behind him, with two guys, double, whatever,” D’Antoni said. “He just looks at it and beats it. It doesn’t really matter. Maybe he has to work a little harder sometimes, or not, I don’t know. But he will figure it out. There’s nothing you can do.”
And Harden says none of it is sapping him of more energy than usual. Asked if he feels the same as he has in the past during this current streak, Harden said to look at how he’s playing.
“You see it,” Harden said. “[I actually] feel better.”