As if the last turbulent week wasn’t enough, a hamstring injury may push James Harden’s freight train of an MVP campaign even further off the rails. On Monday, the Houston Rockets announced that The Beard suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain on New Year’s Eve. In two weeks, Harden will be re-evaluated, but that’s merely to test out his readiness. [restrict]
In the absence of Harden’s glow, Chris Paul will assume the monotheistic point god role in Mike D’Antoni’s celestial offense. In many ways, Paul’s first season has gone just as expected. In other ways, it’s been similar to his Clipper experience. Paul requested a trade to Houston following year after year of inauspicious injuries to himself and Blake Griffin prevented the Clippers from fulfilling their potential. However, Paul and Harden have staggered their bouts of good health.
Paul missed 14 games after the season opener due to a sore knee and his return queued up a 14-game winning streak that ended on the night he strained his left adductor. The Rockets reeled off five straight losses before winning a 148-142 double overtime contest against the Los Angeles Lakers in the final game of 2017.
Given the severity of Harden’s hamstring strain, Paul will be put in a similar position as the one Durant excelled in for four weeks while Steph Curry and Draymond Green were on the mend. Durant’s Warriors were mortal offensively, more defensively sound and played a little more iso.
For all of Harden’s MVP flash, Paul’s grit has been instrumental in getting Houston across the finish line against tough, physical opponents. The Rockets have gone 16-1 with Paul in the lineup and when he’s finished games. They’ve been a sub .500 10-8 team otherwise. San Antonio is the only team pushing Houston for a top 2 seed, but Kwahi Leonard is rounding into shape at the same time Harden is beginning his own rehab.
The Rockets take on a Paul isn’t as prolific of a scorer as Harden, but his playmaking is of equal caliber without the rough edges. Paul and Harden are dishing virtually an equal amount of assists on a nightly basis. The difference between them whittles down to Paul’s cautiousness as he’s averaging half as many turnovers per game as The Association’s third-leading turnover producer.
Eric Gordon has been an efficient pyrotechnic scorer whenever Paul’s been out of the lineup, which frees Paul up to manifest buckets for Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, PJ Tucker and Ryan Anderson. Paul and Harden were staggering minutes, which means there will be a significant drop-off whenever Paul steps off the floor. The Rockets tempo may slow a degree, but Chris Paul is the best insurance policy imaginable. [/restrict]