James Harden was named NBA Most Valuable Player, meaning he was judged to be the best player in the league in the 2017-18 season.
The regular season.
However, Harden and the Rockets not being able to seal the deal against eventual champion Golden State in the Western Conference Finals remains front and center in Harden's mind.
Speaking from USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas, Harden admitted the Rockets blowing a 3-2 lead against the Warriors is something that sticks with him, despite winning the MVP award for the first time in his career.
"I haven’t even done nothing. That was a good feeling,” Harden told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports in regards to winning the MVP. "But that feeling that I had in that Western Conference Finals, with basically one half to go … I need that feeling back. I’ll try to work my butt off, and mentally lock in as much as I can to get back to that feeling.
“It feels great, all the work that I put in, to be able to hold that trophy up. Obviously, the main goal is to be holding a championship up, but we’re moving in the right direction. We’re taking the right steps.”
Houston had double-digit advantages in both Game 6 and Game 7 against Golden State. However, playing without Chris Paul, who went down in the final minute of the Rockets' Game 5 win with an injured right hamstring in both games, then somehow finding a way to miss an NBA-record 27 consecutive 3-pointers in Game 7 proved to be too much to overcome.
“It’s on my mind every day," Harden admitted. "It’s Game 6, Game 7, that’s what drives me every day."
With the Rockets re-signing big man Clint Capela on Friday and awaiting the arrival of 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, it will take some of the sting away from losing valuable wing defenders Trevor Ariza (Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute (Clippers) to free agency.
When Harden, Paul and Capela all played last season, Houston went 53-7.
Harden says he is not concerned about those who believe the Rockets' best chance to get past the Warriors has come and gone after the loss in the Western Conference Finals last season.
"You can go back to articles and conversations, and people said, ‘Me and Chris can’t play together.’ We were the No. 1 record in the NBA,” Harden told Lee with a laugh. “So, obviously, you can look at a roster and look at different players and say that. But you have to be on that court and you’ve got to be in the trenches and be in the war. Eventually, we will figure it out.
“If you don’t get better in this league, you get passed up pretty quick,” Harden said. “We’re not done. But what we have right now is for sure good enough.”