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Houston Rockets: James Harden is more focused than ever before

Despite putting together yet another season to remember, Houston Rockets star guard James Harden still has his sights set on something bigger in his illustrious career. Here’s why the NBA’s reigning MVP is more focused than ever before.

May 5, 2019.

It’s a scorching humid Cinco de Mayo night in the Space City, where the Houston Rockets recently emerged victoriously in a must-win scenario to capture a 126-121 overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

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The majority of Clutch City’s most well-known sports talk show guests flock to rant and rave over the airwaves about their beloved team’s recent performance against the defending world champions. While countless others grant themselves the opportunity to unwind and indulge in all the annual festivities throughout the downtown area to cap off their weekend.

Yet there is a beloved athlete that is not resting upon his laurels into the dusk — one who is seeking to fight and lead his band of brothers in battle to withstand the face of adversity yet once again in thebackdrop ofa historic season.

He’s someone who won’t seek out any attention or let a pair of bloodshot eyes prevent him from getting up extra shots just hours after playing 45 minutes and taking part in his team’s morning shootaround leading up to Game 4.

In a non-stop basketball universe where James Harden has expended bundles of energy to stand toe-to-toe with peers and coaches who devote hours scheming defenses to stop him, the former Sixth Man of the Year who arrived in Houston seven years ago has risen from his early beginnings to become one of the basketball’s most captivating solo acts.

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He’s cemented himself as an automatic lock to finish within the top two of the NBA’s MVP ballot for the fourth time in the last five years — and his name — among the hallowed annals of greats such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain with his statistical achievements.

However, in spite of all the incredible individual feats and accolades that Harden has earned, the man who captured the Maurice Podoloff Trophy last season now has his sights set on crossing an item off his bucket list that has evaded his grasp for the last few summers of his career.

It’s a precious commodity that fuels his fire and inspires him to lock in behind the scenes, despite all the wealth and endorsements that the game of basketball has granted the kid who grew up in from Compton, California: the shot at a championship.

“It’s been a driving force since I’ve been in the league,” Harden told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle before the playoffs. “That’s everybody’s goal…you do things, you get into a career, you get into things you love doing because obviously you love it, but you want to take care of your family, you want to take care of people around you, you want to make people happy.

“It’s not going to determine my ultimate career, my life. But it is one of those things, you’re working for it. That’s every single day when I get in the gym, that’s what I think about.”

Despite making the game look easy with his cerebral prowess to attack, read and dissect, given the coverages that he processes on the floor, Harden’s most recent improvements did not come by accident. It is something that he has worked on religiously every day, as the signaturemoves that have become the primary ingredients to The Beard’s basketball recipe are the exact ones he practices to master for showtime.

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“Every day,” Rockets guard Austin Riverstold Feigen when asked about Harden’s work ethic and commitment to his craft. “I was shocked. I’ve been around a lot of stars. They all work their [butts] off to get there. Everybody has different routines. James has shocked me because usually a guy like that, between games will just get shots up. Usually, guys like that that, with that usagerate, it’s more about recovery.

“James lifts after every game, like hard lifts. He runs the stairs after practice. He works on his one-on-ones every day after practice. He works on the same moves, every day, every single day. This is a guy who makes $60 to $70 million a year with endorsements…will be worth over a half a billion when he’s done playing basketball, and he works like he has nothing. That’s inspiring.”

All for the single pursuit of his ultimate goal in the long run.

Although most former and current players around the league know that the game has never been one to bear the slightest sympathy for greats who have never captured a title at the peak of their power, Harden appears to be willing to do whatever it takes to put the narrative surrounding his play in big moments to bed this time around.

In a year where Harden has made changes in his diet and sought to add more into his individual workout routine, the seven-time All-Star is in the midst of his finest stretch to date this time of year, averaging a personal playoff-high 31.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game for Houston through the first nine games of the postseason.

He’s playing at the highest level with the game on the line, as the 29-year-old ranks fifth among starters in clutch scoring, averaging 4.8 points per game in playoff games decided by five points or less in the final five minutes of either the fourth quarter or overtime.

“I think he has done more to put himself in a better position,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antonitold reporters when recently asked about the face of the franchise. “I think he’s learned from past years that he needs to up this or up that to have a better chance….He’s added the floater, added the step-back.

“He’s improved his game and his ability to play his game. You keep knocking on the door, eventually, the door is going to open…He’s taken teams that are not as good a long way. He doesn’t get over the hump and is criticized for it. He should be praised for getting them there. And he’s learned from experience.”

Harden and the Rockets will now seek to capture control of their best-of-seven series in a pivotal matchup against Golden State in Game 5 of their second round series at the Oracle Arena.

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