When you're the league's back-to-back defending scoring champion, how do you go about making it a three-peat?
For Houston Rockets guard James Harden the answer is quite simple: Score more.
After averaging 36.1 points per game in the 2018-19 season, Harden entered Saturday's meeting with the Indiana Pacers averaging a league-leading 38.2 points per game, a figure that looks to be more and more sustainable with time.
In Houston's 111-102 win over Indiana, Harden finished with a game-high 44 points (on 13-for-26 shooting), 17 of which came in the final frame. According to Justing Kubatko of statmuse.com, Harden joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only two players to record at least six 40-point games in the first 12 games of a season.
The @HoustonRockets James Harden is just the second player in NBA history to record at least six 40-point games in his first 12 games of a season. The other to do so is Wilt Chamberlain (3x).- Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) November 16, 2019
Harden's 40-point games in 2019-20
- Oct. 29 vs. Oklahoma City - 40 points (8-21 FG, 3-14 3FG, 21-22 FT), 7 assists, 3 rebounds
- Oct. 31 at Washington - 59 points (18-32 FG, 6-14 3FG, 17-18 FT), 9 assists, 3 rebounds
- Nov. 5 at Memphis - 44 points (12-28 FG, 7-16 3FG, 13-18 FT), 10 rebounds, 6 assists
- Nov. 10 at Chicago - 42 points (12-27 FG, 9-19 3FG, 9-11 FT), 10 rebounds, 9 assists
- Nov. 14 vs. LA Clippers - 47 points (12-26 FG, 7-13 3FG, 16-17 FT), 7 assists, 6 rebounds
- Nov. 16 vs. Indiana - 44 points (13-26 FG, 6-14 3FG, 12-14 FT), 8 rebounds, 5 assists
Chamberlain, who accomplished the feat three times, also holds the record for most points through the first 12 games of a season with 623 (per Kubatko). While his figure of 464 points is quite far behind, Harden has scored the third-most points through 12 games in NBA history.
After his most recent scoring outburst, Harden is now averaging 38.7 points per contest.
Many questioned whether or not Harden would be able to continue scoring at such a high clip after the team acquired Russell Westbrook in the offseason but early returns would suggest that Harden has no problem finding his offence while sharing a backcourt with Westbrook, who struggled to find his rhythm against Indiana, scoring 17 points on 5-for-21 shooting.
It's a quick turnaround for the Rockets (9-3), who travel to Minnesota for the second end of a back-to-back against the Timberwolves.
Harden, who has now scored 40 or more points 83 times in his career, last did so on consecutive nights in March of 2017. Should he find a way to repeat that feat in 2019, he is again likely to put his name in the company of Chamberlain, which begs the question:
How many of Wilt's records can Harden realistically attain?
Only time will tell, but if history is any indicator, expect the unexpected from the league's back-to-back scoring champ.
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