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Rockets’ James Harden sends NSFW warning to teams about his defense

James Harden, Rockets

Giannis Antetokounmpo made headlines after the All-Star Game once he claimed his steam strategically planned to go at Houston Rockets star and MVP runner-up James Harden on offense, which he said would give his team the best chance to score.

Harden has gone from a lackadaisical defender to one of the strongest post defenders at the guard position due to his sturdy build and fast hands. Teams have still targeted Harden now that he finds himself playing more at small forward in the Rockets’ small-ball lineup that includes 6-foot-6 center PJ Tucker. But that isn’t working:

“You can’t try to play matchup basketball,” a Western Conference head coach told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “That’s what they want. You have to beat them with [ball] movement.”

Harden would even go as far as daring bigger opponents to test him defensively:

“Come try it,” said Harden, “and the s**t won’t work.”

So what sparked such a change in the Rockets star? Going from a guaranteed blow-by to a clampdown force as an undersized defender:

“I’m a competitor. I’m a beast,” said Harden. “Whatever teams’ schemes are, we switch everything, and they’ve got to find a way to attack us. It’s not going to be perfect. Some guys are going to score on me. That’s a part of the game, but more times than not, we’re going to get a stop and they’ll shy away from it.”

Very few teams have been able to dismantle the Rockets’ small-ball lineup. The New York Knicks actually got the better of them as a result of a poor offensive night and an awful rebounding outing (outrebounded 65 to 34), but the Rockets were riding a six-game win streak before that, with Harden playing a major part at both ends of the floor.

Houston is 39-21 on the season.