The Los Angeles Lakers stayed close the entire game against the Houston Rockets, until the final few minutes, when James Harden scored 15 of his team’s final 17 points, including five made free throws.
That distanced the Rockets and led to a 126-111 loss for the Lakers in the opener of their four-game road trip. And while the Lakers had a number of issues, namely poor free throw shooting and getting out-rebounded 43-31, perhaps the biggest was Harden and his 50-point triple-double.
Defending Harden is certainly a difficult, and some nights, impossible task. In the estimation of LeBron James, it’s less about stopping Harden and more about making sure he doesn’t get easy baskets or points. This is why Harden’s 18-for-19 effort from the free throw line was particularly upsetting to James, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“You can’t put him on the line. We put him on the line 20 times. He’s already talented as s*** offensively. He can put the ball in the hole multiple ways: drives, step-back threes. You give him easy points if you put a guy like that on the line. You can’t put K.D. on the line for 20 free throws. You can’t put [Harden] on the line for 20 free throws. You can’t put any scorers we have in our league 20 times, because they see the ball go in the hole.”
Preventing Harden from getting to the free throw line is something many have failed to do. So far this season, Harden ranks second in free throw attempts per game at 9.8, with Joel Embiid coming in first at 10.2.
Harden shot 15 free throws in the first matchup with the Lakers this season. His highly effective offensive skill set allows for him to create contact that if often called against the defense.
While the Lakers had many gripes with the officiating in the loss to the Rockets, there’s no doubt that Harden getting 19 free throws derailed their chances of winning. The Lakers must do a better job slowing down star players and not allowing them to do whatever they want, especially with Kemba Walker, John Wall and Anthony Davis all coming up on the schedule.