The Houston Rockets have reeled off 13 straight wins, but those victories have come at a cost.
Guard James Harden is dealing with a bruised right knee, but he's determined not to let the painful injury sideline him. The 28-year-old toughed it out Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks, despite admitting he nearly didn't play due to discomfort.
"I wasn't feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there's going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it," Harden told ESPN following the contest. "It can't get worse, but it's going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like: 'Let's go.'"
The five-time NBA All-Star hurt his knee Friday when he fell into the basket support as he was fouled against the San Antonio Spurs. One night later, Harden started against Milwaukee and collected a game-high 31 points to go along with six rebounds, and five assists in 39 minutes to help extend Houston's winning streak to 13 contests.
"I wasn't moving like I usually move, but we won. Move on to the next game," Harden said.
The MVP candidate will surely be dealing with soreness in the knee for at least the next few games, but already vowed he would play Monday. At a time in which players resting regularly has become part of NBA strategies, Harden has unbelievably missed just one game in four seasons with an injury. The Rockets have reduced his workload this season in an attempt to keep him fresh throughout the season and into the playoffs. In fact, the team has virtually abolished game-day shootarounds and they rarely practice. Harden is playing fewer minutes (35.8) than he ever has as a starter, ranking 12th in the league in that category. But despite the reduction in minutes, Harden is averaging a league-leading 31.5 points per game to go along with 9.1 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals.
Houston, which owns the NBA's best record at 24-4, will now play three straight home games against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers before a Christmas Day showdown in Oklahoma City with the Thunder - Harden's former team.