James Harden missed shootaround on Sunday with flu-like symptoms and is listed as doubtful to be in the lineup when the Rockets face the Suns. But if he does end up sitting out for the first time this season, it certainly won’t be by choice.
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Harden is in a race with Russell Westbrook for the MVP award this season, and feels strongly that playing in all 82 games should factor into the voters’ decision.
“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry,” Harden said recently. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there. I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”
But as he continues to play with an ailing wrist that has noticeably affected his shooting (Harden’s three-point percentage is almost 10 points lower since the injury), the Rockets should force him sit out for the rest of the regular season.
The organization may be able to get him to agree by explaining one simple thing: The race for the MVP is over, and Harden has already won.
The reason voters are likely to choose Harden over Westbrook will vary on an individual basis; Westbrook’s triple-doubles are eye-catching, but advanced statistics show that Harden does more for a team with significantly more wins than the Thunder in the most efficient way possible, while tallying plenty of triple-doubles of his own.
So then, now that the MVP issue is off the table, it’s time for the Rockets to make sure their best player is as healthy as possible for a run through the postseason.
After Friday’s loss to the Warriors, Harden and his head coach seemed fine with the idea that Houston’s star point guard would simply persevere.
“He really, really wants to play,” Mike D’Antoni told USA TODAY Sports before the game against Golden State. “So I talk to the doctors, talk to the trainers, talk to James, sit in a room and figure it out ... I don’t know his body. I’ve never been (in this situation) before, and I really leave it up to trainers and James. And whatever he wants to do, I’m OK with.
“He loves to play, and he thinks he owes it to the people to play, and I think it’s remarkable. I think it’s great. Now we’ll watch, as we get a little closer, as we get to the last two or three games we’ll have a week before, so maybe we can do something (regarding rest) then, but we’ll make sure he’s ready to go when we open up the playoffs. But again, I trust him, I trust the medical staff.”
D’Antoni has always had this philosophy, and there’s at least one time where it backfired in the most devastating way possible.
When he was head coach of the Lakers in 2013, D’Antoni refused to step in as a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant insisted on playing entire games near the end of the season while trying to drag his team to the playoffs.After a stretch of seven games in 13 days where Bryant played more than 47 minutes per game five different times, his body finally caved under the workload, and he suffered an Achilles injury that not only ended his season, but effectively ended his career.
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Harden doesn’t have the miles on his body that Kobe did at the time, but it’s a cautionary tale nonetheless. And a Rockets team that has the firepower to beat anyone in the postseason shouldn’t take any chances where their soon-to-be MVP point guard is concerned.