The LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers will travel to Houston for a nationally televised matchup against the Rockets on Saturday night. It’s a matchup of teams with postseason aspirations, but while the Lakers are without their star player, the battered Rockets have the hottest superstar in the league in their corner, as James Harden is shooting fireballs out of his hands lately.
The reigning league MVP is averaging a league-high 35.4 points per game this season, hasn’t scored fewer than 32 points in his last 18 games and is routinely exceeding the 40-point mark. In his last two games, Harden has taken things to another level, scoring 57 points in a win over Memphis and 58 points in an overtime loss to Brooklyn.
Having to check him, especially without James, is going to be tough. So when Luke Walton met with the media prior to the game, he admitted — albeit with a “wry smile” on his face —something most NBA coaches would probably admit: Keeping Harden from scoring 50 or more points right now is, in and of itself, a win.
“If we can keep him anything under 50, we feel like we’ve succeeded as a group,” Walton said, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “If he scores over 50, then the game plan did not work.