James Harden is off to an incredible start to the season, averaging an NBA-leading 32.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game while leading the Houston Rockets to a 26-9 record.
In the fourth quarter of Houston’s double-overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the MVP candidate injured his left hamstring while driving in for a layup. He subsequently left the contest after recording 40 points and 11 assists in 41 minutes.
The injury came at an especially inopportune time for the Rockets.
Coming back from a 17-point deficit on Sunday, the Rockets enjoyed an emotional victory, snapping a surprising five-game losing streak. Point guard Chris Paul recently missed time with a strained left adductor and center Clint Capela recently dealt with a bruised left heel and right orbital fracture, but both returned for the epic win. The cast was back together.
But now, in true rollercoaster fashion, they’ll have to figure out how to adjust without Harden.
On Monday, the team announced that Harden will be sidelined for at least two weeks with a Grade 2 hamstring strain, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
Oddly enough, Harden downplayed the injury after he suffered it. But, his teammates expressed serious concerns about him.
"Yeah, we lost our horse," Paul said, despite Harden's claims that it was nothing major.
"If James misses time, it is going to be tough,” explained Trevor Ariza. “Since I have been here, he's been here, he has been on the court, he has been available. So for him to have to miss time, it would definitely be tough, definitely be an adjustment."
It’s worth pointing out that Harden will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Therefore, there’s a chance that he could be out even longer if he’s not at 100 percent by then.
Luckily for Houston, the stretch of games in that span isn't as challenging as it could be. Although they will take on the Golden State Warriors on January 4, the Detroit Pistons on January 6 and the Portland Trail Blazers on January 10, they also square off against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls on January 8 and the Phoenix Suns on January 12 before Harden is re-evaluated. The three latter teams are well under .500 and will still probably be underdogs when they take on the Rockets.
If the Rockets struggle without Harden, it only bolsters his case for winning the MVP award at the end of the year. Luckily, Houston has enough depth to compete without him.