James Harden no longer has to say out loud that he’s the best player in the NBA, a claim he’s made in the past. Harden can just keep playing and let the people decide. He’s gonna get a lot of votes. And so are the Rockets he’s leading — a Mike D’Antoni-coached team that is driven on defense. Yup, you read that right. And the defensive emphasis starts from the top because Harden, whose occasional defensive lapses have obscured his defensive prowess, is making defense a priority.
A game against the one-win 76ers might not be a proper proving ground, but Philadelphia is loaded with talent and they’ve been playing close games with good teams of late. The Rockets recognized this and came out strong in a 115-88 win. And though Harden went 8-of-8 in the first quarter to set the tone, he was quick to credit the Rockets defense for the win. ‘We came in, made shots and defensively really locked in,” Harden said afterwards. The Rockets aren’t yet among the NBA’s defensive elite, but the emphasis is a start.