James Harden has been outstanding for the Houston Rockets this season, but may have played the best game of his NBA career Wednesday night in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The All-Star guard scored 46 points on just 19 shots and added eight boards with six assists in that game, and on Friday night he will get the chance to follow up against Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets are suddenly hot. They pulled out two gutsy wins in a back-to-back series against the Milwaukee Bucks this week, and now they sit just one game back of the New York Knicks for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn's four-game winning streak has come against a quartet of quality playoff-caliber opponents, so Houston will have its hands full on Friday. Deron Williams missed two of those games during the streak (at Pacers, vs. Nuggets), and P.J. Carlesimo says D-Will's ankles will not be at 100 percent this season.
If you didn't catch Harden's career-high scoring performance against OKC, Rockets blog The Dream Shake covered the best moments of the night in the game recap. Billy King announced that Joe Johnson (sore heel) will not play on Friday night, so Harden may get to go against MarShon Brooks more often in situations where Gerald Wallace can't help out.
Houston has a new-look front court. The team traded Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris in a three-team deal to land No. 5 draft pick Thomas Robinson from the Sacramento Kings. Robinson may not be ready to contribute at the level that Patterson did for the Rockets right away, but Tom Ziller of SB Nation NBA provided Houston fans with a quick assessment of what to expect:
Thomas Robinson right now is all energy, hustle and athleticism. He's trying to adjust to NBA defenses and offenses, and while he made some gains of late, he's still a ways away. Kevin McHale should be a gift for him, and certainly the Rockets' up-tempo style won't hurt. Be wary about his touch around the rim (bad right now), jumper (yikes) and hands (not great). Long-term, though, he can be a Joakim Noah type minus the passing finesse.
Meanwhile, the Nets came up empty in trade talks. Over at NetsDaily they are looking forward to a time when the team has more to offer than Kris Humphries' bloated deal, MarShon Brooks and a future first-round pick.
Odds: The line opened with Brooklyn as a three-point favorite in the game, but it has since shifted down to a one-and-a-half-point tip to the Nets, according to Odds Shark. The over/under for the contest is set at 208 points. Houston is the highest-scoring team in the NBA (106.4 PPG), and the total has gone over in six of the Rockets' last seven games.
Game and TV Time: Friday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET, with local broadcasts on CSN-Houston and the YES Network.