James Harden had simply put the ending touches on his 61-point efficiency with a spectacular clutch flurry, scoring the Houston Rockets’ closing 13 factors from the ground to seal the win over the San Antonio Spurs. He had performed 37 minutes in Houston’s third recreation in 4 nights in three cities. However the work evening wasn’t over for the NBA’s reigning MVP.
Harden walked proper via the Rockets’ dwelling locker room to the load room situated within the again instantly after tying the franchise file for factors in a recreation, which he set two months prior. Harden lifted weights below the supervision of Rockets power and conditioning coach Javair Gillett, posting a number of clips from the session on Instagram, offering the world a glimpse into a part of the plan to maintain himself sturdy all through a hopefully lengthy playoff run after carrying a traditionally heavy load this season.
James Harden hits the fitness center for some work after dropping 61 factors in a win towards the Spurs.
“This yr, I have been doing much more weightlifting, simply to ensure my legs and my physique will maintain up,” Harden informed ESPN’s Rachel Nichols throughout an interview over the All-Star break. “I imply, I’ve all the time lifted. This yr, I am placing extra emphasis on it, simply ‘trigger I am 10 years in, so I’ve bought to ensure my physique is robust sufficient to final.
“That is one of many explanation why when individuals ask, ‘Is he going to be drained? Is he going to be drained?’ I do not give it some thought. I simply proceed to work.”
The Rockets imagine Harden’s popularity for fading deep within the playoffs is overblown — “slightly little bit of a foul, unfair rap on James,” participant improvement coach John Lucas stated. Harden’s playoff statistics with the Rockets (27.zero factors, 7.zero assists and 5.5 rebounds per recreation) are much like his regular-season numbers from his Houston tenure earlier than this yr. However the Rockets have put numerous thought into how you can assist him be at his finest via Might and June.
Seen skeptically, the statistics recommend that the percentages are stacked towards Harden. The Rockets readily admit he ran out of gasoline a few postseasons in the past, when Houston’s season ended with a horrible Harden efficiency in a Sport 6 blowout loss to the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs within the 2017 Western Convention semifinals. That 10-point, 2-of-11 evening sticks within the thoughts of Harden’s critics. So does a 14-point, 2-of-11, 12-turnover dud when the Rockets had been eradicated by the Golden State Warriors in Sport 5 of the 2015 West finals.
The doubters additionally word that no participant who has been relied on so closely in the course of the common season has loved any form of playoff success. Harden’s 39.6 p.c utilization charge this season is the second highest in NBA historical past, behind solely Russell Westbrook’s 40.zero mark throughout his 2016-17 MVP marketing campaign. Not one of the gamers who’ve the seven earlier highest usage-rate seasons in NBA historical past bought out of the primary spherical.
Highest Utilization % in a Season, NBA Historical past
SeasonPlayerUsage %Season consequence2016-17Russell Westbrook40.0L, 1st spherical2018-19James Harden39.6?2005-06Kobe Bryant38.7L, 1st spherical2014-15Russell Westbrook38.4Missed playoffs1986-87Michael Jordan38.3L, 1st spherical2001-02Allen Iverson37.8L, 1st spherical2016-17DeMarcus Cousins36.5Missed playoffs2008-09Dwyane Wade36.2L, 1st spherical
It is fairly a stretch, nevertheless, to hyperlink that lack of playoff success to fatigue. None of these gamers performed for groups that earned home-court benefit within the first spherical, because the Rockets possible will. Definitely none of them had a co-star the caliber of Chris Paul — and the Rockets word that neither did Harden when he ran out of gasoline a few years in the past.
“Two years in the past, it was as a result of he was doing all the things all yr,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni stated. “We did not have Chris, and [Harden] was operating for MVP … and we needed to win each recreation. We did not know what we had. Then he bought drained. The primary collection that we performed, he was unbelievable. Then we bought to San Antonio, and we blew them out the primary recreation, and he bought drained. We had extra time in Sport 5, and he bought drained and could not get better in time for Sport 6.
“And everyone: ‘Oh, he is this and that.’ No, James is nice. He typically will get drained out right here. You’ll be able to inform if I do not take him out on the proper time, he will get drained. He is human. However we predict that with Chris, that solves numerous issues.”
Harden did not have Paul for a lot of his historic streak of 32 consecutive 30-point performances, carrying the Rockets by necessity when Paul missed six weeks with a strained hamstring.
“The Unguardable Tour,” as Houston basic supervisor Daryl Morey dubbed it, was enjoyable whereas it lasted. However it did not precisely hassle some Houston staffers when it ended, as they had been involved that the growing consideration on the streak might take a psychological toll on Harden.
“I used to be glad that streak ended as a result of it simply places a lot stress,” Lucas stated. “Every recreation mounts stress in one other method. Folks wish to see it, and there is additionally some skilled jealousy. It was good, we actually wanted it, it is nice for him — nice run — however simply suppose if he was nonetheless going with that streak.”
The shadow of previous playoff failures looms over James Harden and the Rockets. Joe Murphy/NBAE through Getty Photos
The Rockets additionally try to handle Harden’s bodily workload, as a lot behind the scenes as throughout video games, to place him in place to be recent for the playoffs.
The Rockets actually do not follow in the course of the season. They maintain glorified walk-throughs on some non-game days, when Harden’s on-court work basically consists of a taking pictures routine that lasts about 15 minutes. He hungers for extra work, and for a lot of the season, Harden would have intense one-on-one periods with teammates taking turns guarding him, working to hone his abilities as arguably one of the best isolation participant within the historical past of the sport.
These periods have been halted in the course of the second half of the season because the Rockets nurse bumps and bruises, Harden’s specifically. He has handled a cervical pressure that brought about him to overlook a recreation, a sore proper wrist and a bruised left shoulder. However he refuses to take a recreation off for load administration — “I simply like to hoop,” he says — and needs to be satisfied that much less is extra relating to on-court work on off days.
“It is a combat,” Lucas stated. “As a result of he is a routine man, it is a combat. It is all the time a compromise. I am not silly, I all the time discover a compromise.”
The Rockets hardly ever have shootarounds. As an alternative, Harden involves the sector on game-day mornings to get desk work, a mix of stretching and therapeutic massage.
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Harden does persistently get in further work after video games, typically a mix of additional taking pictures on the follow court docket with participant improvement coach Irv Roland and weightlifting with Gillett.
“We’ll try this simply to get him further significant conditioning proper after the sport,” Roland stated. “That method, when the playoff comes and the depth comes that you have to attain, he is in that mode. We began that final yr.”
For a stretch after the All-Star break, it appeared that fatigue is likely to be taking its toll on Harden, though the Rockets had been successful on the league’s finest clip in that span. His taking pictures percentages had dipped considerably, from 44 p.c from the ground and 37 p.c from Three-point vary in the course of the break to 41 p.c and 26 p.c, respectively, in a span of virtually a month after the break.
Harden’s effectivity in isolations, of which he runs greater than 3 times as many as anybody else within the league, had additionally plummeted. Per Second Spectrum, he averaged zero.96 factors per possession on 21.four isos per recreation in that span, down from a ridiculous 1.15 factors per on 19.9 isos per recreation earlier than the break.
Then Harden exploded for 118 factors in a two-game span, scoring 57 in an extra time loss on the second evening of a back-to-back in Memphis and 61 within the win over the Spurs. Yeah, let’s desk the discuss how drained he seems to be as Harden winds down essentially the most environment friendly 36-plus-point-per-game season in NBA historical past.
The Rockets would additionally remind you that Harden held up positive within the playoffs final season, though his Three-point share dipped to 29.9 within the postseason. He scored 32 factors in every of the final two video games of the 2018 West finals, however the Rockets could not beat the Warriors with Paul in avenue garments as a result of a strained hamstring.
“I feel the media’s sort of painted this image like he does not present up in large video games or one thing, which, for those who concentrate, it is false,” Roland stated. “He had  in Sport 7 towards the Warriors. I imply, he was sharp all through the entire playoffs.
“So hopefully we are able to take that a step additional and get an entire ‘nother collection out of it.”