Here we go again. James Harden and the Rockets gear up for another playoff series against Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and the Warriors. Nothing new for either team as the two will face off for the fourth time in five seasons. Notably, the Warriors defeated Houston each time and boast a record of 5-12 against the Rockets in the postseason.
The Rockets were 24 minutes away with a 54-43 lead at halftime of game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. Then, Clutch City missed 27 straight threes in the second half and Golden State advanced to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
Although James Harden has been to an NBA Finals with Oklahoma City in 2012, his roadblock to the NBA Finals in Houston has been Golden State. However, the reigning MVP has a chance to turn the roadblock into a speedbump with a victory this year. Harden has passed Michael Jordan in multiple ways this season with his scoring and now has a chance to mirror MJ in another way.
Jordan lost to Detroit in three straight postseasons going 6-12 until he broke the chains in 1991 en route to his first NBA Championship. It took Jordan four years, the addition of Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson, and multiple bruises before he broke through as an Eastern Conference Champion.
James Harden now faces a similar path. The Bad Boys embodied a "94-feet defens[ive]" mindset and provided new guidance on how to stop vibrant offensive players such as Jordan.
The Warriors have managed to have the exact opposite approach but the same result. After setting both individual and team records for three-pointers during the past four seasons, they have used the threat of outside shooting to maintain their hold as the league's best. Just as Jordan had to outmuscle the Pistons, Harden will have to outshoot the Warriors.
Harden is coming off an MVP-esque year after being crowned actual MVP last year. Now the league-leading scorer is facing a two-time Finals MVP in Durant and two-time regular season MVP in Curry. Add former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and Klay Thompson and the task becomes much greater. It wasn't easy for Jordan and it won't be easy for Harden. The Rockets' leader took on the challenge of improving his defense and was second in the NBA this season in steals.
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Harden has had three different coaches in his playoff battles against Golden State and his current coach, Mike D'Antoni is certainly familiar with the hurdles one opponent can provide. D'Antoni faced the San Antonio Spurs in three out of four postseasons when he coached the Suns and failed to advance each time. Now the two-time Coach of the Year will lead a hungry Rockets team to a second straight battle against Golden State.
This series may very well determine the Western Conference Champion and NBA Champion. Harden will either break through and take one more leap to his next stepping stone to becoming one of the game's best or Curry and Durant will be one more series away from cementing a legacy for the ages.