The Los Angeles Lakers face one of the toughest individual assignments Saturday night when they take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
Harden has been on one of the greatest tears in NBA history, scoring 32 or more points in 19 straight games, averaging a ridiculous 41.2 points per game in that stretch. He’s also shot more than 10 free throws in 13 of those games.
The stretch first started with a 50-point triple-double against the Lakers on Dec. 13. Harden shot 19 free throws in that game, making 18 of them, leading to a controversy over some of the calls that went in his favor.
Harden has continued to draw whistles and score in absurd amounts, so when asked about what success defending him would mean, Lakers head coach Luke Walton gave a bit of a tongue-in-cheek answer, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin
“If we can keep him anything under 50, we feel like we’ve succeeded as a group,” Walton said with a wry smile after shootaround Saturday morning. “If he scores over 50, then the game plan did not work.”
It’s a testament to Harden’s scoring ability that holding him under 50 points would feel like a win for the Lakers. Right now, the Rockets are beaten up due to injuries, so holding Harden to under 50 may be all the Lakers need to secure a win.
Harden has broken several records in his scoring streak. He passed Lakers great Kobe Bryant for second most games in a row scoring more than 30. He’s also now one of five NBA players to average 40 points per game or more for a full 20 game stretch.
Additionally, he’s coming off of scoring 57 and 58 points in back-to-back games, something only Wilt Chamberlain had done before him. With that, Harden passed LeBron James for most 50-point performances by an active player, with 13.
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