HOUSTON — As Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo flirted with shooting perfection Monday night in Indianapolis, Rockets guard James Harden was doing the same at Toyota Center in Houston, making his first eight shots after a 7-for-7 effort resulted in 20 first-quarter points.
While Harden finally missed with just under two minutes remaining in the first half, Oladipo extended his string of shots without a miss to 11 before misfiring on his final three shots in posting 26 points, six rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals in the Pacers’ 121-109 victory over the Orlando Magic.
Harden wound up with 37 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Rockets’ 117-103 over the Brooklyn Nets.
Oladipo is experiencing a breakout season in his first year with Indiana, and he will look to maintain his exceptional play at Houston on Wednesday night.
The Pacers (12-9) are outperforming expectations thanks largely to Oladipo, who is tied for 12th in the NBA with an average of 23 points per game.
Not only is Oladipo scoring at a career-best clip, but his averages in rebounds (5.1) and blocks (1.0) also represent career standards. With a 21.7 player efficiency rating (PER), Oladipo is outpacing the 16.7 PER he posted during his final season in Orlando in 2015-16.
Following a trade from the Thunder after one season in Oklahoma City, Oladipo appears to have settled in with the Pacers in the state where he played for Indiana University. His newfound comfort has unlocked his undeniable talent and untapped potential.
“The game of basketball is fun when you can play free and play with enjoyment and love for the game like that,” Oladipo said. “It makes it that much better, that much easier to play with the guys you got around you. It was fun (Monday). That was a great run. It was one of those memorable runs that you never forget. It was huge.”
Oladipo scored a game-high 28 points in the previous meeting with Houston, a 118-95 Rockets victory Nov. 12. Harden paired 26 points with 15 assists. Houston shot 17 of 47 on 3-pointers. The Rockets pace the NBA with 322 3-pointers; Indiana leads in 3-point percentage (.409).
Harden is the standard-bearer for shooting guards in the league. Last season, he paced the NBA in assists while finishing second in MVP voting for a second time. Through 20 games this season, he leads the league in scoring (31.7) and assists (9.8) for the red-hot Rockets (16-4), whose offensive exploits have rendered opposing defenses helpless throughout November.
Before slowing in the fourth quarter against the Nets on Monday, Harden made 12 of 15 shots and 7 of 8 3-pointers. His 40.7 percent 3-point rate is a career high, and his 56.3 effective field-goal percentage is his highest since joining Houston for the 2012-13 campaign.
“No. I feel like it’s normal to me,” Harden said when asked if he is performing at a level higher than previous seasons. “I’m really engaged, though. I think from top to bottom players, coaching staff to guys in the training room, I think we’re all engaged with each other. We’re all on the same page. That makes, I think, everybody’s job a lot easier.”