Two years ago James Harden‘s admirers had plenty of reason to be affronted when their man wasn’t named MVP instead of Steph Curry. No one could argue that Harden didn’t deserve it, even if Curry did too, and the Rockets nearly made the NBA Finals. Then came the letdown: a 41-41 record, mediocre by definition and a definite call for a reboot. You couldn’t blame Harden. With the exception of the occasional defensive lapse, no one worked harder than The Beard last season: Harden led the league in minutes played.
This year under Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets are adding some Rocket fuel. Harden figures to lead the league in trips up and down the floor, even if he doesn’t lead in minutes again. And unlike some teams that are using the preseason primarily to prune the roster, the Rockets are 5-1 and signalling that they’re on a quest to bounce back from the mediocrity. Evidence? It’s the preseason, sure, but James Harden led the Rockets in minutes playing 29 in a 106-91 victory over the Mavs. Harden scored 23 points on 57% shooting and dished 11 assists to go with his five boards.