By the Associated Press
DENVER — Rule No. 1 in defending James Harden: Throw different looks at him.
Rule No. 2: See above.
At least, that was Denver’s highly effective blueprint.
Nikola Jokic had 27 points and 12 rebounds, Denver played smothering defense on Harden and the Nuggets beat Houston 105-95 on Wednesday night to snap the Rockets’ eight-game winning streak.
“You have to have rules against James Harden,” Denver coach Michael Malone explained. “You can’t play him with your standard defense. Great player defense is required for great players.”
So, the Nuggets tried a little bit of everything to contain Harden, even rolling the 7-foot Jokic out high along with another defender.
The variety of schemes did the trick — as much as it can against Harden. Houston’s star playmaker finished with 27 points, snapping his string of eight consecutive games with 36 or more. He was 8 of 16 from the floor as the Rockets were held under 100 points for the first time this season. They were averaging an NBA-best 119.5 per game.
“We were locked in,” said Jokic, whose team is 7-0 this season when keeping an opponent below 100 points.
Still, Jokic found it funny that his team was being lauded for “stopping” Harden.
“That’s crazy when a guy scores 27 and it’s bad,” Jokic said. “We know he’s going to score. He’s going to be aggressive. Just make it harder and try to be there. … Just to give them different looks.”
It worked — this time.
“They just double-teamed every possession,” Harden said. “They got lucky. They got away with one. We didn’t execute how we needed to.”
The Rockets struggled from 3-point range, hitting 12 of 38. They did make at least 10 for a 71st straight game dating to last season.
Russell Westbrook finished with 25 points on 8-of-22 shooting and Clint Capela grabbed 21 rebounds.
“We had open shots,” Westbrook said. “We just didn’t make them.”
Will Barton scored 15 points, while Torrey Craig and Juancho Hernangomez provided boosts off the bench as Denver’s reserves outscored the Rockets’ backups by a 32-21 margin.
One of the key sequences came in the third quarter, when Paul Millsap blocked Harden’s shot and Barton turned it into a dunk on the other end. That energized the Pepsi Center crowd and sent the Nuggets on a pivotal run.
It’s not easy making things difficult for Harden, who’s seen just about every defensive scheme imaginable.
“He’s one of those guys that when you’re watching film it’s like watching a horror movie,” Malone said. “He’s that talented.”