James Harden's NBA playoff failures are well-chronicled, with many coming at the hands of Steph Curry and the Warriors.
Like a boyfriend afraid of commitment, the Rockets star has gone missing in a number of key fourth quarters in big playoff games during his career. Harden's 10 missed 3-pointers in the Rockets' Game 7 loss to the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference finals were the final nail in his coffin, and the dud he laid when Curry and the Warriors eliminated the Rockets in Game 6 of last year's West semis got him pushed out to sea with the rest of the stars who slink away from the bright lights.
Only an NBA title can bring Harden's legacy absolution, and 2020, should the season resume -- could be the perfect time. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, after five years at the top of the NBA, Curry and the Warriors will be absent from the playoffs after being ravaged by injuries and a changing roster following Kevin Durant's departure.
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The Warriors' absence is only one part that allows the Rockets' title hopes to improve, though. With the NBA on pause because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Harden has used the time to get into ridiculous physical shape.
After the season went on hiatus, Harden went to Arizona to undergo boot camp workouts, as a recent story in The Athletic detailed. Instagram photos show a trimmed-down Harden, and one talking head who has been saying a lot of late believes this makes the Rockets title favorites.
"James was in the lab," Kendrick Perkins said on ESPN's "The Jump." "It shows dedication. He's going to be dangerous. You're talking about a guy who was one of the most prolific scorers to ever touch the basketball, and he done lost weight and he's dedicated. It's going to be dangerous. It puts the Rockets up there as a heavy favorite to win the title if the season resumes.
"That's the whole problem is that he always got tired and he always got exhausted and he always disappeared in the fourth, and you know what being conditioned and putting yourself in shape, that affects you, so that in the end, when it's crunch time, it's going to take them to newer heights."
Slow your roll there, Perk.
First of all, if the NBA season resumes -- which it is on track to do so at the end of July -- the Rockets must run through a gauntlet of teams -- including LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, and Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers -- to win the title. The Rockets' decision to go all-in on a small-ball lineup in which no player is over 6-foot-6 is not a strategy that can work in a seven-game series against the league's best teams.
Perkins later noted that during his time with Harden as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team had to help the guard control his weight. But Harden's playoff failures don't lie in his weight or "beefy" appearance, as his teammate, Austin Rivers, would say.
Harden's playoff duds came time and time again with a better team led by a better superstar standing in the way.
Curry and the Warriors have eliminated Harden and the Rockets in four of the last five seasons. During those series, the Warriors are 16-7 in those contests, with Curry outdueling him in the biggest moments, with Game 6 of the 2019 Western Conference semifinals putting the icing on the cake.
Never forget when Steph Curry EXPLODED for 23 in the 4th – including 16 in the last 3 minutes – to send the Rockets home 🔥 pic.twitter.com/xrF0xFqqcO— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 25, 2020
Harden is a tremendous scoring talent, but any apparent weight issues haven't caused him to go missing in the big moments or kept him from winning the title.
Curry and the Warriors did that. They were superior in every way, every year.
Their absence from the 2020 playoffs will be a bigger boon to Harden's title chase than any boot camp. But still don't expect the small-ball Rockets to be playing deep into September after the season resumes.
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