Rock­ets is Har­den

Business World - - World Sports - AN­THONY L. CUAYCONG has been writ­ing Court­side since Busi­nessWorld in­tro­duced a Sports sec­tion in 1994.

If there’s any­thing the Rock­ets’ match yes­ter­day showed, it’s that their for­tunes are tired to top dog James Har­den’s. They go where he goes. It’s true of all high-us­age play­ers in the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, to be sure; not for noth­ing have mar­quee names be­come, well, mar­quee names. In the case of the red and white, how­ever, the re­la­tion­ship with the reign­ing Most Valu­able Player is taken to ex­treme. Every­thing re­volves around him. Every­thing. And it has been es­pe­cially ap­par­ent of late in light of in­juries to the sup­port­ing cast.

To Har­den’s credit, the Rock­ets have met with suc­cess more of­ten than not with him at the helm. Not count­ing the first month of their 201819 cam­paign, when they seemed dis­com­bob­u­lated fol­low­ing off­sea­son changes to the ros­ter, he has played even bet­ter than ex­pected. Much, much bet­ter. In fact, he has strung to­gether ground­break­ing per­for­mances that those around him are only too happy to ride on. And it isn’t as if he has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the of­fense in putting up his­toric num­bers. On the con­trary, he’s em­i­nently pre­dictable; he’ll ini­ti­ate pro­ceed­ings up top, sur­vey­ing the sit­u­a­tion and then de­cid­ing, of­ten on a whim, whether to drive and shoot, draw a foul, court a dou­ble team and pass to an open team­mate, or take his trade­mark step­back three pointer.

Need­less to say, the Rock­ets will live with what­ever re­sults Har­den pro­duces. And, so far, he has rarely dis­ap­pointed. Lit­tle won­der, them, that he’s back in the MVP con­ver­sa­tion, no small feat given the body of work Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo has put to­gether for the surg­ing Bucks. Yes­ter­day, though, he proved that he’s also hu­man, and that for all his oth­er­worldly ex­er­tions, he, too, can have an off day; he canned just one of 17 three-point at­tempts en route to a pedes­trian 11-of-32 clip all told. Yet, it’s a trib­ute to his im­por­tance to the cause that he still wound up just a re­bound short of a triple-dou­ble in nearly en­gi­neer­ing a road win.

Cer­tainly, the Rock­ets will get bet­ter when their other vi­tal cogs, in­clud­ing point god Chris Paul, re­turn. Make no mis­take, through: All is on Har­den, and Har­den is their all. And he’s de­liv­er­ing in spades. The ques­tion is if he can keep up the pace or if the reg­u­lar sea­son will run him ragged. He has been there and done that; Game Seven of the 2018 Con­fer­ence Fi­nals saw him ele­phant-walk his timid self to the court. Where he hasn’t gone and what he hasn’t done: Tri­umph in the sport’s grand­est stage. And be­cause he’s look­ing to do so, he may have to first take a step back in or­der to move two steps for­ward. Else, he may find him­self closer to be­ing a one-time su­per­nova than an all-time su­per­star.

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