Instead of writing out a full preview, I want to do something different. You know the Clippers. The Rockets lost to them right before the All-Star break. They're good, even without Blake Griffin. They can score with anyone, DeAndre Jordan can go 20/20 without breaking a sweat, Jamal Crawford can draw fouls and not get blasted for it like Harden, and Chris Paul is the best pure point guard in the NBA. They're a superteam.
I rarely deviate from my normal preview style. I pride myself in writing about everyone and not just focusing on one player or one aspect of the game. I've never written a love letter about James Harden other than the occasional "Harden is playing really well lately." I once compared him to Neville Longbottom, and that's about it. If you want people falling over themselves to talk up Harden, you can find that anywhere else on the web. If you want well-researched, insightful pieces about Harden then you know that my brethren here at The Dream Shake are better equipped to handle that. Or you could pick up a current issue of Sports Illustrated. You won't find Harden-centric pieces in the previews.
So what I'm going to do today is a little unprecedented for me. If you're new to TDS I promise that the previews aren't just 82 posts dedicated to how wonderful I think Harden is. In fact, today I'm actually writing about how terrible he has been.
The Rockets are 1-8 against the Clippers since James Harden became a Rocket, and Harden didn't play in that single win. To throw Harden the smallest of bones, he missed one of the losses as well.
To say that James Harden has been awful against the Clippers would be an understatement. He's been a bigger disappointment against the Clips than The Last Airbender was to audiences everywhere.
James Harden should be the MVP. You know this. I know this. To some extent, even the media knows this. They will vote for Steph Curry because the media is full of idiots content enough to give Birdman a Best Picture Oscar (yes, sports media isn't Oscar voters, but I'm bitter so there). But here's my point: if you called Harden to MVP to a Clippers fan's face, they would laugh at you. After all, they have never seen him play well against them while donning a Rockets uniform.
Here are the statistics for Harden against the Clippers since joining Houston. For those who believe that James Harden walks on water, shield your eyes. For those of you who love to bash Harden, call him "Literally Hitler," and mention the head snapback at every opportunity (looking at you, Blazers fans), try not to get too aroused. Harden does fairly well against the other 28 teams. The Clippers are just his kryptonite.
James Harden is a career 45% field goal shooter. He is shooting 36% against the Clippers. His best shooting game against them was a 5-12 performance for 42%.
James Harden is a 37% three point shooter. Against the Clippers? 14%. FOURTEEN! He's even had 3 games in which he went oh-fer from distance.
James Harden has averaged 26.2 points per game since joining Houston. He averages 17.9 against the Clippers.
Harden even shoots 5 percentage points worse from the free throw line against the Clippers.
Harden averages an extra turnover and foul against the Clippers. He averages one fewer assist.
But...why? Again, the Clippers are really good. I'm not here to say that the Clippers are scrubs that James should light them up. But let's be real for a minute. Harden's had his fair share of "Harden stoppers." P.J. Tucker, Tony Allen, and Jimmy Butler have all had nights where they've made Harden look less than mortal.
But Harden has turned the tide on all of them. Houston is 3-0 against Phoenix, with 2 of those wins coming thanks to Harden magic; 1-1 against Chicago with Harden getting revenge on Butler in the second matchup and turning him in multiple directions more than once; and 2-1 against Allen and the Grizzlies after a poor first game in Memphis.
The Clippers don't have a "Harden stopper" per se. Matt Barnes is a good defender, and any team with DeAndre Jordan is going to make life difficult for driving players. But Harden has overcome above average defenders and rim protectors before. To use the examples from above, both Chicago and Memphis have elite rim protection.
Maybe it's J.J. Redick being a jackrabbit and causing Harden to chase him around the court. Remember, it was the first game against the Clippers last year that unleashed the "Harden is the worst defender ever" stuff. Redick absolutely owned him in that game and in his four matchups against the Rockets has always had great outings. It's perfect fodder for the media and Harden haters to say "Look, he can't defend his own position! How is he deserving of MVP?" They'll ignore the fact that Steph Curry doesn't guard the best point guards most of the time or that countless great players have been hidden on defense.
Harden is even from Los Angeles! Usually players do really well when they play their hometown teams. Heck, LaMarcus Aldridge isn't even from Houston but playing at Texas is enough for him to consider games at the Toyota Center a homecoming. And he always plays well here.
I'm grasping at straws here trying to figure this out. Is there a conspiracy at work here? Maybe Harden thinks Cliff Paul is real and that Chris has told him that he will introduce Harden to his "brother" if he throws these games. I would throw games to make Cliff Paul commercials disappear, but that's just me.
It's baffling to me. And it's sad because including the first game between these teams being on NBA TV, all four of Harden's games against the Clippers this season have been/will be nationally televised. And if you throw up 4 duds on national television, even I don't think you should win MVP.
Tip off is at 7pm CST on ESPN.
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