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James Harden keeps making his case for MVP

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Harden scored 44 points in a win over the Trail Blazers on Monday night, marking the third time in six games he has gone over 40 points.

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Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden has been making a strong case for MVP all season, and that case got even stronger with a 44-point, seven-assist effort in a 110-95 beatdown of the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night. Thirty-one of those points came in a dominant first half.

The 44-point performance matched a season high from just two weeks ago, when Harden put up 44 points in a thrilling overtime victory against the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets star has scored at least 41 points in three of his last six games.

This latest outing was Harden's most impressive yet. Along with his point and assist totals, he also had five steals and shot the ball efficiently. He shot 14-of-26 from the field, 4-of-9 from the three-point line and went a typical 12-of-13 from the free throw line.

The kicker in all of this? Harden played only 32 minutes, meaning his performance put him in elite company:

Harden's entire season has him in elite company. Harden is currently averaging 27 points, seven assists and just over six rebounds, something only Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and John Havlicek have done over the course of an entire season, according to Harden's 27 points per game is best in the league among qualified players and his seven assists per game is in the top 10 and tops among shooting guards.

He does so much for the Rockets' offense, and it really shows when comparing how they perform when he's on the court as opposed to on the bench. Houston has scored nearly 106 points per 100 possessions in Harden's 1,013 minutes, per That's an offense that would rank just outside the top 10. But in the 298 minutes he has been on the bench, the Rockets have scored just under 88 points per 100 possessions, a mark well below the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers.

Not only does Harden carry a massive load offensively, but he has shown improvement on the defensive side of the ball. He's averaging two steals after the five thefts on Monday, and he leads the league in Defensive Win Shares, per

Furthermore, the Rockets have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA despite Dwight Howard missing 12 games. The defense stays about the same whether Harden is on the court or on the bench, and it's clear that he has made it a point to put forth a more concerted effort on that end after turning into a laughingstock the past few seasons.

With Harden playing strong two-way ball, Houston is 20-7 even with the prolonged absences of Howard and starting power forward Terrence Jones. Harden is a bona fide top-three MVP candidate, and the argument can be made that he's the current frontrunner because of both how good he has been and how important he is to the team.


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