On Monday, James Harden scored 30 points for the 30th straight time and Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double for an NBA record 10th straight time. Quite a day in the NBA.
At times, it has probably seemed as if the news of this NBA season has been dominated by two storylines – the Lakers and Lebron and the Lakers and Anthony Davis. It’s impossible to get through a night without Charles Barkley riffing about one or the other.
The truth of the matter is, there’s much more than that to dish about. In fact, two of the greatest stories ever told about the league are unfolding simultaneously involving Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
On Monday in Oklahoma City, Westbrook recorded his 10th consecutive triple-double to break Wilt Chamberlin’s mark of nine set in 1968.
And on the same day, Harden, despite playing with a sore shoulder, extended his streak of scoring at least 30 points to an implausible 30 straight games.
Certainly, anyone associated with the league would have to admit these phenomenal streaks are anything but a drop in the bucket. Then again, you don’t live inside the mind of Michael Jordan, who made his living creating the absurd and extraordinary.
Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Hornets, was asked the other day which of the two accomplishments seemed more problematic to him. He thought about it for a second before showing his hand.
“Which is harder from the player’s standpoint? Six championships, by all means, said Jordan.
Basketball historians would nod yes. Jordan won six titles with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. But Jordan did not dismiss the noteworthiness of the what Westbrook and Harden have been able to do.
“It shows progression in the league,” Jordan said. “I am very proud of how both guys have done because they are making a mark for the league, and I think it really helps grow the league.”
In terms of difficulty, Harden would get a perfect 10 for what he needed to do to reach 30-30. He had to score 11 points in the final 1:40 of the Rockets 120-104 win over Dallas. He hit step-back jumpers on back-to-back possessions, made a pair of free throws with 1:18 remaining and canned a three off an assist from Chris Paul to extend the streak.
“I was worried about winning,” Harden said.
Meanwhile, Westbrook needed five assists in the final eight minutes to break Wilt’s mark with a 21-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist effort in a 120-111 win over Portland. He had nine with four minutes to play and No. 10 came with the help of Paul George’s make.
“Definitely an unbelievable moment,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know, because honestly, bro, I know what I’m capable of doing, and I just go out and compete and whatever happens, happens, man. I never even dreamed of playing in the NBA or standing here talking to you guys. So, each moment is a blessing for me. Each time I get to walk into this locker room and see my name up there, it’s a blessing for me.”
Westbrook, who has 13 triple-double this season, had two seven-game, triple-double streaks, both during his MVP season (2016-17) when he had 42 of them. He is the first to average a triple-double for an entire season since Oscar Robertson in 1962. He is also third all-time with 127, 11 short of Magic Johnson. Robertson is first with 181
“That’s an unbelievable moment in of itself. Just to be able to wake and be able to have a job, have a jersey, have a name on your back, because to me that’s a blessing itself and something I never even dreamed about as a kid,” Westbrook said.
For Westbrook, it was his league-leading 23rd triple-double of the season. Ironically, Westbook drained a three soon after to help George get his third career triple-double (47 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists).
“Usually, Russ has that by the first quarter,” George said. “We talked about it right before that play, we talked about it. I was clueless at that moment. … so it was cool to be on the other end of the triple-double.”
Picking up assists is easier when you have a teammate like George. He’s averaged 39.7 points in February and his 47-point game followed 45 points on Saturday against the Rockets.
It was the second time this season teammates had triple-doubles in the same game. Lebron and Lonzo Ball also did it. Regardless, it’s only happened nine times in league history.
“I just go play the game the right way,” Westbrook said. “That’s what I do. Go out and compete, every night leave it on the floor. And whatever happens, happens. I’m very, very blessed to be able to go out and play, and I don’t take it for granted.”
As for Harden, the NBA’s reigning MVP and leading scorer (36.5), further increasing the streak may be impossible because of the shooting shoulder injury suffered on Saturday. You figure, at some point raising his arm might become problematic.
“I couldn’t get the lift that I usually have for my shot, but that’s no excuse,” Harden said. “I’m just happy we won the game.”
Until Harden came along, Wilt was the only one with 30 straight 30 point-games. He once put together 65 straight. Imagine that?
The Rockets improved to 21-9 during Harden’s streak, which began with 50 against the Lakers on Dec. 13. At the same time, he’s third among guards in defensive rebounding.
What’s there not to love about him as the Rockets prepare to play in Minnesota on Wednesday night? He has scored 40-plus 21 times this season and has led the Rockets in scoring in 47 of their last 49 games.
“At the end of the day, the object is to win games,” Paul said. “We never want to compromise a win or anything like that, and I think James has done a great job of that. At the end of the day, the name of the game is to win, and that’s what we do.”