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Houston Rockets

Will James Harden score more than 81 points in a game this season?

13 years ago, Kobe Bryant lit the Raptors up to the tune of 81 points, the second-most points ever scored by a player in an NBA game.

Can James Harden surpass that total on Friday when the Houston Rockets travel to Toronto?

It'll be a tall order against the Raptors considering they've been kryptonite for opposing All-Stars this season, but Harden is scoring at a rate we've only ever seen from one player in NBA history - Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain - with an average of 39.5 points per game.

Harden enters Friday's contest on fire, too. He's scored a combined 110 points in his last two games, putting up 60 points up in only three quarters against the Atlanta Hawks and following it up with a 50-point outburst in an overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

With that in mind, our NBA.com Staff debates whether or not Harden is a threat to score 81 or more points in a game this season.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I have no doubt that Harden can score 81 points in a game - his performance against the Hawks being the perfect jumping-off point - but I don't think he will.

There's a reason we've only ever seen two players in NBA history score 80-plus points in a game - it's really, really, really, really difficult. Just think about what Harden would have to do to reach that total. He'd have to hit like 10 3-pointers, 25-ish free throws and 13 2-pointers, all in a close game because he'd almost certainly need to play 40 or more minutes to do all of that.

Remember, the Lakers needed almost all of Kobe's 81 points to defeat the Raptors, which is why he played 41 minutes.

We're also seeing teams double Harden more aggressively this season than they have in the past. Teams are even breaking out box-and-ones in the NBA these days! I feel like if he did come close to 80 points, teams would try to prevent him from getting any sort of daylight, even at the expense of a Danuel House or Ben McLemore getting a wide open shot.

Again, I wouldn't be shocked if Harden did score 81 or more points in a game. I'm just not banking on it actually happening.

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): He's going to do it.

I'm legitimately stunned that his career-high is "only" 61. Sure he's had four 60-point games - which OHBYTHEWAY is the same number that Michael Jordan had in his entire career and two fewer than Kobe - but they've been 61, 61, 60 and 60.

With 2019 coming to a close, it's worth mentioning that Harden has eight of the top 10 scoring games in the calendar year, including three of those aforementioned 60-point games, plus five more in which he topped at least 57. The only two players who have ever had a longer leash to do whatever they want, whenever they want when it comes to scoring are Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant, both of whom busted out 80-point games.

Also helping out Harden?

The fact that the Rockets aren't a juggernaut. Sure, he didn't play the fourth quarter against the Hawks in that game he dropped 60, but there will be other nights against stiffer competition when Houston will need him on the floor to keep up. The year that Kobe scored 81, the Lakers finished 45-37 and were a 7-seed. The year that Wilt scored 100, the Philadelphia Warriors finished 49-31, which was the third-best record in a nine-team league.

Houston isn't blowing teams out, which means he'll have the reps. This is the same team that back in October played in a 159-158 game with no overtime against the Wizards in a game that Harden finished with 59. It's a historically high usage player with the perfect storm of circumstances to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

It's a matter of when, not if, Harden lights up someone for 82. The real question isn't whether he one-ups Kobe. The real question is whether or not he can one-up Wilt.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm actually going to go with yes, Harden will score more than 81 points in a game this season.

Take this past loss to the San Antonio Spurs as a prime example of why he will do it. Harden just shot 11-for-38 (28.9%) from the field and 4-for-20 (20.0%) from beyond the arc and still found a way to score 50 points because he was able to get to the free throw line 24 times, tying an NBA record for most made free throws without a miss in the process.

It was a historically bad/good performance from Harden, who had the lowest field goal percentage in NBA history in a game that a player scored 50 points.

If Harden were to catch fire in a game like that where he's still getting to the free throw line 20-plus times but is also consistently burying 3s, he would most certainly be able to score more than 81 points in a game. And on top of that, if he were that close, wouldn't you peg Harden to target that number and make sure he exceeded it?

People are beginning to get bored with Harden's ridiculous scoring because they aren't happy with how he does it. He scores 60 points in a game and no one even bats an eye. I'd like to believe it's in the back of his mind that if he were to break Kobe's 81 points, people would finally give him the credit he deserves.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I'm with Scott on this one, he's not doing it.

I vividly remember watching Harden's career-high 61 points at Madison Square Garden last season and thinking to myself I couldn't see him scoring more than this. It was a grind to get to that 61 - he shot 25 free throws and touched the ball seemingly every single time down the court, which had him finishing with a usage rate of 54.6% that night. When Kobe dropped 81 on the Raptors, his usage rate was 56.8%. Bean was also only at the line 20 times and took just 13 3-point attempts.

I get that the game is different now but Harden has averaged over 13 attempts the last two seasons and never even sniffed mid-70s.

Harden may be one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen, but it's not happening.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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