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Harden Notches Triple Double, Continues to Bolster MVP Candidacy
By Mike Jasko

In the Rocket's 12th consecutive game without bigman Dwight Howard, James Harden struggled to get himself going offensively, missing his first seven shots. He then started focusing on getting the ball to his teammates, as Houston led by a point after one quarter, guided by Harden who had 4 assists.

For the Timberwolves, it was rookie Andrew Wiggins who led the way, scoring 30 points in the losing effort. The Timberwolves grabbed the lead at the end of the first half on a Kevin Martin lay-up. Two free throws by Martin gave the T-Wolves a three-point lead, but James Harden scored 5 points in the final 34 seconds of the half, hitting a 3-pointer just before time expired to tie the game up at 56 going into halftime.

Houston was able to enjoy a lead for most of the second half. Harden had ten assists before the third quarter was over, needing just a rebound to complete the triple-double. But it was the third quarter's final play that made for Harden's highlight of the night. With time winding down, he performed a cross-over dribble that left Ricky Rubio stumbling before stepping back and knocking down the three-pointer.

 Harden finished 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists to give him his second triple-double of the season, his fourth for his career. He is the first Rocket since Steve Francis to record multiple triple-doubles in the same season.

Harden's performance is a testament to his MVP-caliber form this season., particularly since Dwight Howard was sidelined with an injury in late January. In that span, Harden is averaging 27.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 6.8 APG; all while leading the Rockets to 8-4 record without their starting center.

When it comes to the ongoing MVP race, it's currently neck-and-neck between Harden and Warriors guard Stephen Curry. The Rockets' quality play without Howard certainly works in Harden's favor, as does his own scoring prowess; at 27.3 PPG he leads the NBA. He also get to the free-throw line at a ridiculous rate; 531 times so far this season, 154 more than Jimmy Butler who ranks 2nd.

Of course, Stephen Curry warrants plenty of consideration of his own; his Warriors have the best record in the league and he sits in the top ten in scoring and assists, while leading the league in steals. It will be fun to watch who emerges as the favorite as their teams play out the final 30 games of the regular season.  

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