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Kobe Bryant’s death hit James Harden really hard

Rockets, Kobe Bryant, James Harden

Like many others, Houston Rockets All-Star James Harden is taking the loss of Kobe Bryant hard. The two shared a close bond, despite the fact that they played on opposing teams. In fact, many view Harden as Kobe’s original protégé.

Harden cried before Monday night’s game against the Utah Jazz. It was just one day after Bryant’s tragic passing in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles. Emotions have been running high across the league, but Harden is trying to remain focused:

“A lot of ups and downs,” Harden said, via Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “Obviously, that’s just in being on the road for a week. A lot of emotion. Obviously, we had a tough week, but 2-2 isn’t bad. We want to be better but now we go home and try to finish off these few games.”

Harden, as well as Russell Westbrook, looked up to Bryant as children growing up in the Los Angeles area. When they were young, they watched as Kobe and Shaq led the Lakers to three consecutive championships:

“As a kid, I looked up to Kobe Bryant,” Harden told Eastbay in 2018.

“The thing I could take away from [Kobe] was that he was passionate,” Harden added. “He didn’t care what people said about him. He was just a winner. He did whatever it took to win games, to win championships, and that’s why he’s a legend.”

Harden is once again putting up big numbers for the Rockets, who are currently holding a 29-18 overall record. He has made 44 appearances this season, racking up averages of 35.7 points on 43.6 percent shooting from the field (35.5 percent from beyond the arc), 7.2 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and a block in 37.1 minutes per outing. His 35.7 points per game rank first in the NBA by quite a wide margin. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is holding the No. 2 spot with 30.0 points per contest.

The 2018 MVP has been in a shooting rut in January, though, and he recently missed time with a thigh injury. The Rockets will be back in action on Friday night, when they’ll serve as hosts to the Dallas Mavericks. Tip-off inside the Toyota Center is set for 7:30 p.m. ET, with ESPN having live broadcast coverage.