Houston guard James Harden has previously enjoyed stretches of utter brilliance like the one he is riding during the Rockets' seven-game winning streak, but that doesn't diminish the awe his current level of play is inspiring.
The Rockets will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday seeking to extend their winning streak to eight games while searching for another flash of exceptional play from Harden, who is averaging 43 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.3 steals during the streak.
With the Rockets missing four of their top five scorers and playing the second game of a home-road back-to-back Saturday at Minnesota, Harden poured in 49 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out six assists to carry Houston to a 125-105 victory. Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni described Harden as a "bazooka" following the performance and, on a grander scale, Houston displayed the desire needed to win nightly in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.
"It's very, very important," Harden said. "We can't take any game for granted. We showed that."
The Trail Blazers were in desperate need of the collective performance they received in San Antonio on Saturday, rallying from a 15-point deficit after earlier blowing a 23-point lead. The 121-116 victory over the Spurs snapped a stretch of six losses over seven games.
Against the Spurs, the Trail Blazers were more than just Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. That duo combined for 54 points, with McCollum scoring 32 on 13-of-25 shooting, but Portland received 21 points and 12 rebounds plus three blocks from Hassan Whiteside, as well as 16 points from Rodney Hood. Four reserves combined to provide 25 points off the bench.
"It's better for us in the long term when it's a group effort," Lillard said. "Obviously there are going to be nights where CJ has a huge game, or I have a huge game, or one of us takes over the game. It's going to happen, and it's going to be necessary sometimes. But in a time like this where we've been struggling it's great to have a group effort to pull out a tough win.
"If we can get that type of production and effort from everybody in big situations like this, it's going to make us a better team."
Starting with what was essentially a home loss at the buzzer to the 76ers on Nov. 2, the Trail Blazers had slipped into what could fairly be described as the doldrums. Ugly losses at Golden State and Sacramento were mixed in with home setbacks against Brooklyn and Toronto. Viewed as a title contender after qualifying for the Western Conference Finals last season, Portland instead opened this season as one of the surprising disappointments in the league.
Rallying to win the opener of a six-game, 10-day road trip is what Portland needed to initiate the process of reversing what had been a negative course thus far.
"It's easy to kind of fall prey to it when things aren't going your way," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "And I thought hopefully that's a big step for us."
--Field Level Media
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