The Los Angeles Lakers had a plan for James Harden on Saturday night. “If we can keep him anything under 50, we feel like we’ve succeeded as a group,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton joked before the game. Harden has been on a tear since December, but his most recent body of work is downright mythological. The Houston Rockets guard scored 57 points against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday and on Wednesday he put up 58 against the Brooklyn Nets. It was the first time anyone’s had two games in a row with more than 55 points since Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1962. The Lakers knew it would be tough, but they were able to keep the Houston star in check. The Rockets won in overtime on Saturday, 138-134, but Harden only managed to score a paltry 48 points. Mission accomplished.
It’s difficult to overstate just how absurd Harden has been this season. He’s doing stuff the NBA hasn’t seen since before the moon landing.
Chamberlain’s streak spanned 65 games and lasted from 1961 to 1962, but he was doing it against guys who took regular cigarette breaks. Harden, meanwhile, is doing this while his two best teammates are injured. Chris Paul and Clint Capela were out on Saturday, but Harden and the Rockets were still able to erase a nine-point deficit with under 3 minutes remaining to force overtime against the Lakers.
Harden scored 7 points in the extra period, including a trademark step-back 3-pointer that has proven to be unguardable (like, literally unguardable) over the past two months.
Saturday’s victory didn’t feel like a coronation—if anything, Harden got off to a sluggish start—but it’s a testament to the offensive fugue state he’s in that his 48-point performance seemed so … casual.
He just does this now. Get used to it.