James Harden back on old stomping grounds, ready to conquer NBA streak, Suns

James Harden had a much smaller beard at Arizona State but even then, it took multiple players to guard him. (Photo by Dustin Snipes/ICON SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – With the eyes of the NBA focused on what Houston Rockets guard James Harden will do next, and how long he can extend his streak of scoring at least 30 points, the one person that seems the least concerned about the scrutiny?

James Harden.

“It’s always a different feeling to come back here,” Harden said at Talking Stick Resort Arena, just a long step-back jump shot from Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena, where Harden honed his game.  “It feels like home and I have a lot of feelings …”

The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player was at ease during warm-ups Monday morning before the Rockets met the Suns, almost welcoming the next defensive scheme a team might throw at him.

Harden has seen just about every possible defense during this remarkable 26-straight game run, one that has not been seen since Wilt Chamberlain had streaks of 31 and 65 games of 30 points or more.

The 6-foot-5 Harden has been guarded on the side, at his back, contested at half-court, by zones, facing two defenders, three defenders, but continues to sidestep every strategy.

“It’s pretty cool because you’ve got to find ways to attack it, to steal it,” Harden said. “It’s a game within a game. I have fun with it. I enjoy it.”

Harden has compiled the streak despite injuries to his supporting cast of Rockets, including Eric Gordon (leg tightness) and Clint Capela (thumb), who were listed out of the Suns game. And Chris Paul was listed day-to-day.

“It’s been incredible to watch,” Suns guard Devin Booker said of Harden’s current run. “For me, I always look at guys like that as an inspiration and, watching very closely, it’s unbelievable what James does.”

For a Phoenix team ranked 28th in the NBA defensively, preparing for a player as dynamic as Harden is a challenge, and the Suns were hoping a joint effort might limit the damage he is capable of inflicting.

“We know it’s going to be a shootout every time we play Houston,” Booker said. “Everyone is going to have a game plan, and it’s the execution part that you have to do …”

Booker said that even if the game plan isn’t working, “sticking with him and still talking to each other” will be the Suns’ focus.

While the Suns will try to figure out a way to slow Harden down, the Rockets’ approach is simple. Put the ball in Harden’s hands and turn him loose.

“It’s just the way he plays every game,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The way he scores and the ease and the efficiency … getting to the foul line, making up for injuries, whatever he has to do, he’s doing it.”

For Harden, figuring out how to attack each night is like solving a puzzle.

While Harden may be having fun, the teams he faces each night would rather he didn’t. The Rockets had won 18 of 26 games during his hot streak heading into the Phoenix game.

Trying to wear him down hasn’t worked and throwing everything at him defensively only seems to spark his creativity.

“I love the game of basketball,” Harden said. “I don’t worry about getting drained, getting tired. I hoop.”

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