Despite facing an unfamiliar Golden State Warriors line-up, James Harden was still out for blood Wednesday night, scoring 36 points and handing out 13 assists as the Houston Rockets romped to a 129-112 win.
Less than six months ago, a vastly different roster of Warriors ended another Houston playoff run for the third time in four seasons.
On Wednesday night, Harden gained a measure of revenge over a Golden State team missing Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and summer signing D'Angelo Russell.
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Harden scored 24 first-half points, including four consecutive three-pointers shortly before half-time. He finished the night 10-of-23 from the floor and 10-of-13 from the free-throw line as the Rockets rolled to a resounding victory.
"That's a part of the league," Harden said about the changing faces. "It's a part of the NBA. There's been a lot of different faces since I've been here. It was bound to happen at some point and it is what it is."
Golden State rookie Eric Paschall, who scored 19 points, was challenged with guarding Harden for much of the game.
"It's just hard because he's so dynamic and he's a great passer," he said. "And during his [isolation plays], you can't really touch him because he's so smart on how he draws the fouls. As a team, we did a good job in the first half, but then he got hot and started hitting threes."
Harden's 292 points through the first eight games (36.5 points per game) mark the highest point total through eight games since Michael Jordan had 303 in 1988-89.
The win lifts Houston to 5-3 for the season and coach Mike D'Antoni said some of Houston's early struggles have been related to issues with conditioning.
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He took part of the blame for saving his players' legs in the preseason and limiting practices but said he believes the shooting, the energy and the defense will improve once the conditioning comes around.
Harden said the conditioning is a work in progress. "We're getting there game by game," he said.
"We don't really practice a lot, we're a vet team. [D'Antoni] leaves it up to us to go out there and compete at a high level.
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"We work on our condition in that way. Individually, we have to make sure we're on that, and as a team, we have to make sure we're on that."