Has 54 points ever looked so routine? James Harden erupted once again on Friday night, pouring in 54 points in the Rockets' 130-107 win over the Magic. Harden now has 109 points in his last two games. He's made 10 threes in back-to-back games, shooting 60.6% from beyond the arc. The Beard now has five 50-point games this season and 14 since 2018-19, lapping his peers in every scoring metric imaginable. The legend of Harden's scoring season continues to grow, and we're only in December. What a start to 2019-20.
Here are three takeaways from Friday's victory.
Harden Decimates Magic
Orlando head coach Steve Clifford chose not to double-team James Harden on Friday night, and like Cavaliers coach John Beilein on Wednesday, Clifford paid the price. Harden torched the Magic in isolation on Friday nearly irrespective of defender, an impressive feat considering Orlando's No. 8 defensive rating. Lanky wing Jonathan Issac held his own in limited situations, but otherwise, Harden scored at will, banging home every step-back with ease.
The personnel against Harden feels merely academic at this point. Throw any single defender his way, and Harden will get off quality looks either beyond the arc or at the rim. His percentages were shaky to start the season, but he's now on a two-game hot streak as the Rockets return home. Harden on a middling shooting night still ranks among the league's most fearsome scorers. In a hot stretch, Harden becomes arguably the greatest scoring guard in NBA history. Orlando faced the latter on Friday night as Harden buried the Magic at the Amway Center.
Westbrook Continues Strong Play
Russell Westbrook hit the nadir of his season in the first two games of December as he combined to shoot 14-57 from the field while making just one of 12 threes. Westbrook's shot selection was shaky and his finishing at the rim was subpar, and skeptics pounced on his lack of efficiency next to Harden. Those skeptics have been quieted over the last four games.
The 2016-17 MVP is averaging 26 points, 7.7 rebounds and eight assists per game since Dec. 7, and he's shooting 56.2% from the field. Friday night continued Westbrook's strong stretch. He scored 17 points in the first half on 6-8 shooting, finishing the night with his 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Westbrook has been nearing MVP form over the last four games.
Westbrook attacked the rim with abandon on Friday, punishing the Magic in transition. He appeared to be a step behind his Oklahoma City days athletically early this season, and some wondered whether an offseason knee procedure had zapped him of his otherworldly gifts. Those concerns look to be overblown. Westbrook is finding his legs at the season's quarter mark, and growing comfort in his knee should help boost Houston's transition attack.
McLemore Follows Formula
Ben McLemore has received a pretty simple directive from Houston coaches since joining the Rockets in July: run the floor, and let it fly. The former Kings' lottery pick has followed Mike D'Antoni's orders to a tee in the last five games, averaging 18.2 points per game while shooting 52.2% from three. McLemore followed his winning formula again on Friday.
The Kansas product made six of seven shots in Houston's win over the Magic, with all six makes coming from three. McLemore showed off his quick-trigger release, launching each triple with a hand in his face. His plus-21 in 27 minutes tied Harden for the game's best mark.
McLemore has spent much of his season in minutes alongside Harden, and his proximity to The Beard has paid off. Harden and McLemore sport a plus-23.8 net rating when they share the floor, the best mark among all 187 duos to log at least 400 minutes. McLemore has revived his career in Houston, and he added another strong performance on Friday night.
Up Next: vs. Detroit on Saturday
The Rockets will board a flight back to Houston late Friday night as they prepare for a home matchup against Blake Griffin and the Pistons. Detroit is currently on pace to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in the last 10 seasons, entering Saturday's matchup 10th in the Eastern Conference at 10–15. Point guard Derrick Rose is in the midst of a strong season despite the Pistons' struggles. He's averaging 16.2 points per game on a career-high 48.5% shooting.
Tip-off from the Toyota Center is slated for 8 p.m. CT.