James Harden had his "signature moment" before January was through. It did not hurt that he backed it up with a nationally televised victory Thursday, capped by a dagger four-point play. But by the time he returned to a stage following Tuesday's masterpiece against Orlando, even TNT's Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal emerged from what had to be many hours of deep analysis to declare Harden the player to beat for most valuable player honors. Even in the short-attention span world of sports debate, the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history seemed likely to endure as a symbol of MVP worthiness, just as Russell Westbrook's triple-double record-setter, capped by his buzzer-beating triple in Denver did last season. And if the times demand a social media confirmation, LeBron James, the four-time MVP and the star attraction when the Rockets face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, tweeted it Harden's way. More Information Scouting report: Rockets at Cleveland Cavaliers When/where: 7:30 p.m. today; Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland. TV/radio: ABC; 790 AM and 850 AM (Spanish). Rockets (37-13) update: At 37-13, the Rockets are tied for the best record in franchise history through 50 games. … The Rockets have won their past two games against the Cavaliers, but they have lost their past two in Cleveland. Over the past three meetings, the Rockets have outscored the Cavaliers by a total of one point. … Guard James Harden is 27 points shy of 15,000 in his career. He has averaged 38 points and 13 assists against the Cavaliers over the past two seasons. … Forward Ryan Anderson has scored in double figures in three consecutive games for the first time since a five-game run in November. … Center Clint Capela has eight blocked shots in his past two games. He has eight games with at least three blocked shots. He blocked three or more shots six times last season. … Forward Trevor Ariza (hamstring) is out. Eric Gordon (back) is questionable. Cavaliers (30-20) update: The Cavs have won four of six games since a four-game losing streak. After a 2-4 start to the season at home, the Cavaliers are 17-2 at home since Nov. 7, the best home record in the NBA in that stretch. … Channing Frye has averaged 18 points in two games since Kevin Love went out with a hand injury. … LeBron James is fourth in scoring and fourth in assists in the NBA. He averaged 27.3 points in his past three games against the Rockets on 58.9 percent shooting with 20 assists and 21 turnovers. … Isaiah Thomas has averaged 17 points and 4.6 assists in his past eight games. … The Cavaliers have the fifth-ranked offense, but they are ranked 28th defensively. … Forward Kevin Love (broken left hand) is out. Statistically speaking: 25. Double-doubles for Rockets center Clint Capela this season, matching his total in his first three seasons combined. "C'mon @JHarden13!!! Now that's insane G! 60 point Triple Dub. Sheesh!!" Harden offered an "Appreciate it bro!!!" Somehow, the player-transaction gossips avoided the temptation to describe their great and abiding friendship and potential for a future partnership. But without saying the words, or even the initials, James seemed to be joining the chorus elevating Harden from a pair of MVP runner-up seasons to the front-runner status. Through 50 games of the Rockets' season, there is ample data to consider about each member of a deep field of candidates. Priorities can change. Two seasons ago, Golden State's 73 wins provided a convincing argument for Stephen Curry. Last season, the triple-double average propelled Westbrook despite Oklahoma City finishing with the NBA's 10th-best record. Harden can no longer be docked points for defense, and he could be bolstered by his post defense ranking second (among players with at least 50 possessions defending postups) to Memphis' Marc Gasol. As the NBA's leading scorer (31.5 ppg) on pace to add the top-scoring season in franchise history to Tuesday's top-scoring game, Harden has an effective field-goal percentage equaled among 30-point scorers by only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, according to basketball-reference. MVP winners all.
Paul: Harden will win MVP, it's 'not even going to be close'
Houston Chronicle | Feb 3