The Houston Rockets were dead even with the New Orleans Pelicans at 61 a piece when James Harden raced down the court with less than two seconds remaining in the first half. Guarded by the Pelicans’ Josh Hart, Harden failed to get a shot off before the buzzer in an unsuccessful attempt to draw a foul to close out the quarter.
Moments later, a frustrated Harden slammed the ball on the floor of the Toyota Center, in which it ricocheted back to hit him in the face. Although it may look as if Harden was agitated by the non-call, his frustration to close out the half was the result of his raunchy start to the game, as he shot 4-of-13 from the field. Harden said:
“I’m going to take whatever they give me. I was in there yesterday working on that same shot, and this morning working on that same shot, and just tonight it didn’t fall. But the most important thing is that we got a win.”
Behind a historic triple-double outing by Russell Westbrook (28 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds), the Rockets secured their first win of the 2019-20 season. Although Harden led the team in scoring with 29 points, 11 came from the charity stripe on a night where the former league MVP shot 28.0% from the field and an unpleasant 11% from three during the 126-123 victory.
Saturday night marked the second consecutive game Harden failed to find his shooting touch. In the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, he failed hit the 20-point mark (19) as he shot 2-13 from the floor and 1-8 from deep in the loss.
Josh Hart's reaction to James Harden was PERFECT. pic.twitter.com/yp2FUJNaP4— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) October 27, 2019
Through the first two games, Harden is currently shooting 23.8% on field goals attempts and 11.5% from behind the arc. A portion of his shooting struggles is credited to the defensive schemes executed by the Bucks and Pelicans, but Mike D’Antoni believes his star guard is going through a rough patch more so than the defense that was played.
“It’s not the defense, he just isn’t shooting the ball well and he knows that. He is just going through a little thing where he is not making shots, but he has to keep attacking. I do not care who we play or what kind of schemes, no matter what you do, it’s James.”
And D’Antoni may have a point.
Milwaukee and New Orleans have both defended Harden on his left side, which takes away the space he needs to complete his signature step-back. Although their defensive schemes have been successful, Harden is still getting the looks that he wants.
Harden’s true shooting percentage is below the league’s average (54%) at 45% to start the season. But on shot attempts coming from inside the three-point line, he is shooting 70% from the floor. Most of his shooting woes are a result of his inability to hit shots from above the arc, as Harden is currently shooting 13.0 percent on 11.5 attempts coming from the pinnacle of the three-point line.
Once his shots from the top of the arc begins to fall, it will be a matter of time before the Rockets see the return of the player who closed out the preseason scoring a total of 82 points on 47.1% shooting, 47.0% from three. D’Antoni continued:
“Preseason is one thing and the regular season is another, but he has just lost his rhythm. There is nothing to worry about, he is fine. He just has to continue playing his game, and he’ll figure it out.”
For a team that has allowed 120.0 opponents points through the first two games, D’Antoni and the Rockets have more of a concern for their defensive issues, than the early-season shooting problems of James Harden. Harden’s play right now is the least of the coach’s concern:
“He’s awful. I don’t think he’s had enough games for us to trust him. That’s the last thing I’m concerned about. Sometimes he goes through stretches like this, and that’s one thing you can take to the bank.....he is fine.”