With the Houston Rockets all but guaranteed the third seed in the Western Conference, James Harden should rest more to heal his injured wrist.
At this point in the season, most people believe James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the two favorites for MVP. Both are putting up spectacular numbers and performances, and it could come down to the final two weeks of the season to decide a winner.
Unfortunately for Harden, a recent wrist injury suffered in a game against the Denver Nuggets on March 20 may prove to be the downfall for his MVP campaign.
However, with the Houston Rockets firmly situated in the third seed of the Western Conference, the team should start thinking about the playoffs, especially when it comes to Harden’s minutes and health.
As of right now, the Rockets are four games ahead of the Utah Jazz with six games left for both teams. However, the Rockets’ schedule gets fairly easy down the stretch, with games against teams like the Suns, Kings and Pistons. Therefore, with it being nearly a lock for the Rockets to be the third seed, the team doesn’t have to worry about jockeying for playoff position down the stretch.
Furthermore, the Rockets are a team with high playoff expectations, and rightly so. After exceeding expectations, it would be extremely disappointing to end the season with another first round elimination. The odds of such a result happening increase if James Harden isn’t fully rested and healthy come playoff time.
It’s not exactly clear how much his wrist is bothering him, but Harden has admitted the injury is tough to deal with. It’s more than likely that his wrist is bothering him enough to affect his recent play, which hasn’t been pretty.
In the past three games, Harden is shooting just 29.4 percent from the field and 16.1 percent on three-pointers. Harden has also had six turnovers in all three games as he has looked sloppy and worn out most of the time on court.
Harden himself has said he doesn’t want to rest and that playing all 82 games should factor in to MVP discussions, which is an admirable (yet also potentially reckless) school of thought. It’s clear that the decision to rest won’t come from Harden himself, so someone else within the organization should make it clear that resting even one game can have tremendous benefits in the playoffs.
Again, this could just be a recent cold stretch from Harden that he’ll get out of by next week. But the timing of this stretch with his injury surely makes it seem like one is the result of the other. Resting even two games down the stretch of the regular season could prove to be the difference in the playoffs, with a refreshed and healthy Harden running the dynamic Rockets offense.
Could sitting out a few games hurt Harden’s MVP chances? Possibly. But by this point in the season, most voters have made up their mind on who they believe is most deserving for the award. Besides, if Harden’s recent performances are any indication, him being out on the court during this stretch could already be doing enough damage to his MVP campaign.
Harden (and the Rockets organization) have to realize that the true goal this season is to compete for a championship. The only way that occurs is with a healthy and fresh James Harden running the show in the playoffs. The best way to get there: rest James Harden more down the stretch of the regular season.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and Basketball Reference