The Kings got a firsthand look at why Rockets guard James Harden is a frontrunner in the discussion for league MVP this season. Harden logged a triple-double Sunday in Houston’s 135-128 win over the Kings – his 21st of the season – with 35 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds.
But the Kings also noted what Harden’s main competition for the award, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, did Sunday. Westbrook recorded his record-breaking 42nd triple-double by scoring 50 points with 16 rebounds and 10 assists. And he hit a 36-foot buzzer-beater that knocked the Denver Nuggets out of playoff contention.
This year’s MVP argument is a loaded one, and after Sunday’s game, a few of the Kings weighed in on where they stand.
“Honestly, man, as great as James has been playing, in the last week Russ has sewn it up in my eyes,” Kings guard Garrett Temple said. “He had another 50-something-point triple-double with a game-winner. People don’t even talk about how him in terms of how clutch he’s been. He’s just playing at a whole other level right now.”
Westbrook’s performance Sunday broke the record for NBA triple-doubles in a season formerly held by Oscar Robertson. He is also assured of averaging a triple-double over the course of a season, becoming the first player since Robertson to do so in 1961-62.
“I had James until like last month,” Kings guard Ty Lawson said. “Then I’m like, ‘Russ is doing something that’s ridiculous.’ He’s hitting game-winners and it’s not even like 3s from the 3-point line, it’s like seven feet back. So it might have to go to him.”
But Harden certainly has a case, leading the league in assists, ranking second behind Westbrook in scoring – and leading a team that has 54 wins and has sewn up the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. In a nice touch, Harden’s Rockets and Westbrook’s Thunder will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
“I’m going to go with James Harden,” Kings guard Ben McLemore said. “The past years I’ve been in the league playing against him, how much better he’s gotten at finding guys and things like that – you saw it today, how great decisions he’s been making. It’s hard to defend that.”
Head coach Dave Joerger declined to answer when asked for his MVP preference. But he was complimentary of Harden after Sunday’s performance.
“James Harden is playing at a level I’ve not seen in several years,” Joerger said. “He’s making every read on every pass. And I know he had some turnovers (10) today. But what he’s doing right now, the level he’s playing at … he is really fantastic right now.”
Whatever the outcome of the MVP race, Lawson said, one thing is certain:
“Whoever has that vote is going to have a tough problem.”