Harden, Rockets await skidding Magic

HOUSTON -- All-Star guard James Harden picked an ideal night to reach a personal milestone with the Houston Rockets, and acknowledged a loftier career goal while his franchise honored one of the most influential players in NBA annals.

In lockstep with the Rockets feting Hall of Famer Yao Ming with a jersey retirement ceremony, Harden eclipsed 10,000 career points with Houston in a 121-117 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.

Deferential to the global impact made by Yao during his career, Harden made it clear that he longs to see his No. 13 jersey hanging in the Toyota Center rafters.

"Hopefully, one day I can be in that same category," said Harden, third in the NBA in scoring with an average of 28.9 points and first in assists (11.4). "It's a great honor."

Harden is undoubtedly trending toward achieving that goal. After averaging 18.6 field goal attempts over 17 games in January, an average that ranked a modest 12th in the league, Harden has taken a more aggressive approach so far this month. While producing 41.5 points, 10 rebounds, 8.5 assists and three steals per game, Harden has hoisted 28 shots on average against the Atlanta Hawks and Bulls.

With the Rockets (37-17) set to host the Orlando Magic (20-33) on Tuesday night, they need Harden to remain assertive. Down the stretch against the Bulls, he eschewed the pick-and-roll and opted for isolation plays to force overtime.

"Player like that when he says he can get it done from there, get it done then," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "And he did. He was great."

The Rockets defeated the Magic 100-93 in Orlando on Jan. 6, part of a stretch of 15 losses in 20 games for Orlando. The Magic have dropped nine of 12 games and continue to plummet in the standings after showing signs of life in late December.

Orlando sandwiched consecutive wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies around Christmas Day before initiating their freefall. The Magic were thumped on Saturday night in Atlanta 113-86 to continue their spiral, with the inability to string together even a modest winning streak proving most vexing.

"It's very disappointing," Magic forward Serge Ibaka said.

"We're at a point now where it's just mental, because we try. We can't keep thinking about it. We have to learn from it and move on to the next game."

There are no easy solutions for the Magic. With reports swirling that everyone on the roster is available for trade, the Magic are a mess in every phase, ranking 28th in offensive rating (100.7), 27th in defensive rating (111.3) and ahead of only the Lakers with a minus-10.6 net rating over the last dozen games. During that stretch, the Magic are 25th in rebounding rate and effective field goal percentage.

"Apparently, we're not good enough for that on either end of the floor," Magic coach Frank Vogel said of sustaining a winning streak. "We've got to find ways to improve."