Some people in this world delight when James Harden is not successful as an NBA basketball player. His iso-heavy style of play is an acquired taste, but so is coffee and yet a Starbucks gift card can win the heart of the average American adult. What really grinds peoples’ gears in regards to Harden is that he always gets his way. Most recently, he called Daryl Morey a liar and got traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers lost Harden’s first five games in their uniform. He, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook did not instantly mesh. Those struggles delighted Clipper haters and also those who are sick of the current state of sports in which athletes have more control than ever before. There are also some red-blooded Americans who are simply sick of Harden being rewarded for his temper tantrums— especially since he has never won a championship.
That losing streak has come to a halt and the Clippers are on a roll. They defeated the Sacramento Kings, 131-117, Wednesday on the road — in fairness to the Kings, they had to overcome a big deficit the night before to defeat the Golden State Warriors.
That win is the Clippers’ fifth in their last seven games.
On Wednesday against the Kings, the Clips showed just how dominant they can be. Sacramento trailed from the 6:11 mark of the first quarter. Leonard missed only four shots and was his team’s leading scorer with 34 points. The Clippers handled the ball better than they had all season, turning it over only four times.
The passing was crisp all night, whether a quick feed to Ivica Zubac in the paint or setting up a 3-pointer for George or Harden. During the losing streak, the Clippers topped 22 assists in a game only once. In their last seven games, five times they have totaled at least 25 — against the Kings they tallied 28.
Even as Harden’s new team is attempting to turn their season around, he has struggled as a scorer. Only twice in the last seven games has he shot even 43 percent from the field. His 26 points on Wednesday is his highest scoring total of this season.
In an act of selflessness, as the Clippers were nose diving in early November, Westbrook requested to come off of the bench. The very first game that he was not in the starting lineup they defeated the Houston Rockets, 106-100.
Westbrook playing with the second unit gives that group some juice, while also allowing George and Leonard to grow accustomed to playing alongside Harden without a bullet train in the backcourt speeding up the game. Westbrook’s point-center days from when he and Harden were both on the Rockets are not returning.
Let’s get real, though, regardless of the lineup, the Clippers were going to find a way to play winning basketball. The team has too much talent to finish the regular season as a losing team. For all of the injuries that George and Leonard have battled through since being brought together in 2019, the team always finishes the season with a winning record. The last time that the Clippers ended a regular season below .500 was 2010-11.
I do not believe that the Clippers are an NBA Championship contender. George and Leonard have not missed a game this season. The likelihood of both, or maybe even either, of them being healthy come playoff time is not high. And even though neither of them has sat on the bench in street clothes this season, the Clippers are 8-9.
While the Clips should not be considered title contenders, this recent stretch of winning play is evidence that they have too much talent to be completely written off before Christmas. Shoehorning Harden into the lineup was not going to be easy. Westbrook volunteering to play with the second unit was an uncommon sacrifice from a future hall of famer, and it has certainly sped up the process.
People have free will. They can be upset with Harden all they want for the way that he floats from team to team. To hope that the Clippers lose just because he now plays for them is the behavior of a hater, but I’m not here to kink shame.
Still, those who believe that the Clippers are in trouble, or are a below-average team, you are all lying to yourselves. This team is talented and will win a lot of games this season. No amount of disdain towards Harden is going to change that.
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