James Harden may be feeling some fatigue as the Houston Rockets host the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
Outwardly, with a cursory glance at Saturday's box score, it appeared that he had again delivered something extraordinary, continuing his individual streak of outstanding efforts despite Houston enduring the end of its season-long, six-game win streak.
But there were signs that Harden is tired after carrying the team on his shoulders, even with his 38 points and seven assists in a 110-101 loss at the Portland Trail Blazers.
Harden missed 12 of 17 3-pointers, his 29.4 percent shooting from deep representing his lowest mark since he shot 2 of 8 at Utah on Dec. 6. He matched his season high of 35 shots, committed seven turnovers, and didn't get rolling until the second half when he recorded 20 points in the third quarter.
Expecting Harden to maintain his historic production with his backcourt mate Chris Paul sidelined was folly. Over the Rockets' first six games without Paul, Harden averaged 42.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 9.5 assists while shooting 41.9 percent on 3-pointers.
He was bound to regress, with the Rockets (22-16) finally displaying their need for Paul (hamstring) and Eric Gordon (knee) to return to their rotation and render aid to Harden.
"You grade him on, eh, he wasn't real sharp," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "What'd he have -- 38? It's like now if he doesn't get 40 what's wrong with him? So, he's gone up to another level. He'll stay up there. That's why people say he can't continue, and he'll still, yeah. Because he's built with ease as long as he stays healthy."
The West-leading Nuggets (26-11) extended their winning streak to five games with a 123-110 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at Pepsi Center on Saturday. Denver remained two games in the loss column ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder, parlaying another exceptional showing from center Nikola Jokic into their 10th consecutive home victory. The Nuggets' previous home loss came on Nov. 13 against the Rockets.
Jokic posted a season-best 39 points along with 12 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. In what was his fourth 30-point game this season, Jokic hoisted a season-high 29 shots, an aggressive display from someone lauded for embracing a facilitating role in the Denver offense.
"I think he understands for us to be the team that we all want to be, he has to be a big part of that," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said of Jokic. "He has to be aggressive. I love the fact he took 29 shots. You go back a month, a month and a half ago, he took one shot in a game (in an 89-87 loss at Memphis on Nov. 7). So, an aggressive Nikola Jokic to score, to make plays, to rebound, is a hell of a player. And that sets a tone for everybody.
"And the one thing I love about Nikola is very, very rarely will he ever force a play. He's going to make the right read time and time again. And that's why he makes all of his teammates much better players."