The Miami Heat’s challenge Sunday night will be to stop the high-scoring machine of the visiting Houston Rockets.
Shooting guard James Harden is averaging 36.6 points in five games after he led the NBA in scoring in each of the past two seasons, averaging 30.4 points in 2017-2018 and 36.1 last season.
“It doesn’t matter if you are out there with him,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said to a reporter, “James is still going to get 60 points if he wants. [Opponents] can try anything they want.”
Indeed, Harden nearly got 60 on Wednesday, settling for 59 in a wild 159-158 win over the Washington Wizards.
On Friday, however, Harden was “held” to 36 in a 123-116 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Harden shot just 2-of-16 on 3-point attempts and is shooting just 20.0 percent from deep this season. He shot 36.8 percent on 3-pointers last season, which is in line with his 36.3 career percentage.
Not that Harden is concerned he will have any trouble on Sunday night in Miami.
“The 3-ball hasn’t been going for me, but I’m going to continue to shoot,” Harden said. “Those are good shots. Even if teams try to take my 3-ball away, I’m going to continue to shoot.”
Houston has plenty of other stars, such as point guard Russell Westbrook, who is averaging 23.4 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.8 assists. The Rockets were averaging a league-best 125.6 points through Friday’s games.
Miami, off to a 4-1 start, feels good about its own guards, especially rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro and veterans Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic.
Nunn, undrafted in 2018, made his NBA debut this season with the Heat, who plucked him off the Golden State Warriors’ development team. Nunn has been a revelation in Miami, leading the team with a 22.4 scoring average.
“It’s surreal a bit,” Nunn said of his journey. “But all I needed was the opportunity.”
Butler, Miami’s biggest offseason acquisition, is starting in the backcourt with Nunn. After missing Miami’s first three games on paternity leave, Butler has emerged as a do-everything type.
He leads the team in assists (6.5) and steals (4.5) and is second in blocks (1.5) and third in rebounds (7.0). He is averaging just 13.0 points — well below last season’s average of 18.2 — but Butler isn’t worried after two games.
“I’m not here to score 50 points or whatever,” Butler said. “If we win, I’m good.”
The Heat also have gotten value from Dragic and Herro.
Dragic, known as a score-first point guard, was an All-Star in the 2017-18 season. But now, at age 33, the Heat are bringing him off the bench, and he has provided instant offense. He is averaging 16.4 points.
Herro, 19, is a rookie first-rounder from Kentucky. Herro, the 13th player selected, had his breakout game on Tuesday, when he burned the Atlanta Hawks for 29 points, including 19 in the second quarter.
One of the big questions regarding Sunday’s game is the health of Heat point forward Justise Winslow, who missed Thursday’s game, also against the Hawks, due to back spasms. Winslow is averaging 14.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
With Winslow out on Thursday, Duncan Robinson started in his place and scored 12 points with three rebounds and no assists.
–Field Level Media