Royce YoungESPN Staff WriterClose
- Covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for ESPN.com
NEW ORLEANS — Historic scoring marks don’t really move James Harden all that much anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop putting them up.
On Monday, it was 39 points on the New Orleans Pelicans to bump his scoring average to 37.3 through the first 10 games, the highest the league has seen in the first 10 games in the past 50 seasons.
“I just go out there and play basketball,” Harden said of his scoring. “Try to be assertive as I can. We’re really pissed about losing those three games — that’s what we’re thinking about [with the first 10 games]. I think defensively we’re getting better. We’ve been really good these last few games. And that’s our mindset, just continue to get better. Like, individually, I don’t care. I’ve done a lot of good things, pretty good things individually, so the most important thing is winning and finding ways to get better.”
The Rockets improved to 7-3 with a 122-116 win over the Pelicans. Harden scored 28 of his 39 points after halftime — including 19 in the fourth quarter — and scored or assisted on 61 of Houston’s 91 points while he was on the floor.
“It’s go time,” Harden said. “Fourth quarter is winning time. So you’ve got to be more aggressive and make plays whenever they come to you, whether it’s my shot, getting to the basket or shooting my floater or making the right play.
“I wasn’t really getting to the rim the first three quarters. I was settling,” he said. “Kind of just being passive a little bit, so I wanted to be more aggressive. Whether it was shooting my shot or getting to the basket, I was doing that.”
As is often the case, what makes Harden’s 37.3 average notable is who is now No. 2 on the list: Michael Jordan, with 36.9 points per game through the first 10 games of the 1988-89 season.
“I don’t really keep up with my scoring or not,” Harden said. “I just know in the fourth quarter, it’s time to be aggressive or find certain things I can be aggressive at that can help my teammates get shots off and score as well.”
Harden started the season slowly — by his standards — scoring 19 in the opener and 29 in game two. The past eight games, he’s averaging 40.6 per game, highlighted by 59 against Memphis.
“To me, he’s the most difficult matchup in the league,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
Harden has won the past two scoring titles, with his 36.1 average last season the highest since Jordan averaged 37.1 in 1986-87. If there were any thoughts that the scoring might dip after integrating new teammate Russell Westbrook — a two-time scoring champ himself — there has been no slowing down from Harden.
However, the Rockets have played their best this season when the two don’t share the floor. With Harden on and Westbrook sitting, Houston is plus-13, and they’re a plus-10 with Westbrook on and Harden off. But when they play together, the Rockets are a minus-17, though that number is heavily influenced by a recent blowout loss to the Heat in which they trailed 46-14 after the first quarter.
“We’re still just trying to feel it out and get better,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I’m just a little worried about, we just make some bonehead plays, and that’s not going well.”