December 23, 2014: James Harden wouldnâ€™t admit he was thinking about last season in Houstonâ€™s first game against Portland since the Trail Blazers eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in the first round.
Dwight Howard was certain he was.
â€˜â€˜I know itâ€™s kind of like a weight off his back because of what happened in the playoffs against Portland,â€™â€™ Howard said. â€˜â€˜And [Monday] he just destroyed them.â€™â€™
Harden scored a season-high 44 points to help the Rockets cruise to a 110-95 victory in Houston and snap a two-game skid.
â€˜â€˜Last year, nah. What happened the last two games,â€™â€™ Harden said when asked if he had a chip on his shoulder from the early playoff exit. â€˜â€˜Two losses at home is unacceptable, so we wanted to come out here and not make it a third.â€™â€™
The Trail Blazers were without leading scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the game with an upper-respiratory illness, and had their five-game winning streak snapped.
It was Hardenâ€™s NBA-leading third 40-point game this season, with all of them coming this month.
Harden, who leads the NBA in scoring, has had 11 games with at least 30 points this season, which also leads the league.
â€˜â€˜He played really well,â€™â€™ coach Kevin McHale said. â€˜â€˜That was about as much juice and energy that weâ€™ve played with in a long time.â€™â€™