James Harden is single-handedly wiping away all of the early season angst over the Houston Rockets' slow start.
The reigning MVP scored 45 points in a win over the Boston Celtics to lead the Rockets to their eighth win in their last nine games. Less than three weeks removed from a late blown lead against the Mavericks that left the Rockets sitting at 14th in the Western Conference, they're now 19-15 and right back in the hunt.
And it's all thanks to Harden.
Over his last eight games, he's averaging 40.5 points per game while raising his scoring average to 32.7 points per game. Not only is he quickly becoming the favourite to win a second straight scoring title, he's nudging himself right back into the MVP conversation.
It's a place he hasn't been all season long. On December 8 when we rolled out our first MVP ladder , Harden did not receive even a single vote for the top five from any of our voters. Though he's still certainly no front-running candidate, it's now impossible to have that conversation without including the man who is putting Houston on his back.
Harden's torrid play couldn't come at a better time for the Rockets who have a pivotal five-game stretch starting over the weekend in which they'll play five straight games against teams they are in direct compeition with in the tightly contested Western Conference. Their next five games are at New Orleans, home against Memphis, at Golden State, at Portland and home against Denver.
On the heels of that tough stretch against fellow West foes, they host the Bucks and current MVP front runner Giannis Antetokounmpo in a game that could suddenly have some awards buzz.