James Harden makes another case for being MVP

play
Harden not concentrating on MVP (1:19)

James Harden breaks down the final sequence against the Nuggets, how he was able to get down court and put up a lay-in for the lead with under 10 seconds remaining. (1:19)

HOUSTON -- The debate about who the MVP is and how much rest players receive isn't a complicated discussion for the Houston Rockets.

James Harden, who has no DNP-Rests on his tab, was brilliant again Monday night, scoring 39 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing 11 assists in a 125-124 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

With the game on the line, Harden exalted his 6-foot-5 frame to make two major plays, one on offense and one on defense.

Denver held a one-point lead in the closing seconds when Jameer Nelson shot an air ball from 21 feet away. Harden was there to catch the ball under the basket, then looked up court and took off.

"For sure that was the fastest he's ever moved," Trevor Ariza said.

Nelson did get back, but Nene Hilario shielded him from trying to prevent Harden from jumping toward the rim.

Harden scored, untouched, uncontested, uneverything, to give the Rockets a one-point lead with 2.4 seconds left.

"I was running so fast, I feel like I was faster than [John Wall]," Harden said. "I felt like Usain Bolt."

After a timeout, Nikola Jokic threw a pass at the rim toward Mason Plumlee. Harden was in front of Plumlee and knocked the ball away at the buzzer to close the game. That doesn't mean Harden is on the verge of being on the All-NBA defensive team, but it was a solid defensive play that sealed the victory.

"I don't know how many examples you need there," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said regarding the MVP award and Harden. "He gives you an example every night. If something's better out there, I've never seen it and I've been around. I'm old and I've been around and never seen anything better."

Of course there are other worthy MVP candidates in Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas. You can't forget about LeBron James and Kevin Durant, either.

According to Basketball Reference, the probability of Harden getting the MVP was 42.8 percent heading into Monday's action. The nearest competitor was Durant at 17 percent, and his return from a hyperextended left knee is uncertain.

"I don't care, it's out of my control," Harden said of the MVP award. "My control is to go out there and hoop and have fun and win games."

Harden's numbers are unreal. He has produced 56 double-doubles and 19 triple-doubles and became the only player in league history to score at least 50 points, grab 15 rebounds and have 15 assists in a game. He's also one of just four players to score 40-plus points while getting a triple-double in consecutive games. Over the past three games, Harden is averaging 40 points and shooting 49.3 percent from the field.

The other MVP candidates have numbers that wow you, too. But for player like Lou Williams, who arrived in a late February trade from the Lakers, there's no one playing like Harden.

"It's definitely like 'damn,'" Williams said of Harden. "It's especially like 'damn' when I'm on the [sideline]. Just being a competitor and being burned by him, being that type of player. You see it every day to put this team on his back, night in and night out on the offensive end and go out and do the things that he’s doing is huge."

The debate about rest will linger for the rest of the regular season and likely into the summer. Harden doesn't mind playing, calling himself a "hooper" earlier in the day.

Denver coach Michael Malone said Harden was old-school for doing it.

"You gotta respect the hell out of that," Malone said before the game. "Here's a guy, that they have the No. 3 seed fairly firmly established but he's a competitor. He's an old-school player, he wants to play, he loves to play and you have a lot of respect for guys like that."

When it comes to rest, Harden has missed only one practice, the one after the All-Star break. Other than that, Harden has been at the Toyota Center working with his teammates, enjoying the grind of the season.

D'Antoni will give his team the next two days off. So what will Harden do?

"That's when I can rest," he said. "Take care of my body, cold tubs, messages, stretching and be ready to go [Friday]."

That's when the MVP chase will continue.