Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni already has coached one MVP point guard, and he could be in the process of doing it again.
He’ll tell you that Steve Nash and James Harden have more similarities than you might think.
D’Antoni was in Phoenix when, in his first full season coaching the Suns, the team added free agent Nash and went from 29 victories to 62 and a trip to the 2005 conference finals with a high-octane offense. Nash won the first of two consecutive MVPs that season.
When D’Antoni was hired by Houston before this season, the move was criticized by folks who felt Houston needed a defensive coach.
So far Houston has been the story of the Western Conference. And Harden has gotten even better, posting a near triple-double (28 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists) in Saturday's 111-109 overtime victory against the Wolves.
And if you think the two guards are as different as can be — Nash being pass-first and Harden shoot-first? There are similarities, too.
“Every point guard is unique in the sense that they solve the equation the way they solve it and have their own pace and way of doing things,’’ D’Antoni said before Saturday’s Wolves-Rockets game at Target Center.
“But they’re both able to see the floor, see the game, make plays that are hard for most players to do. They see the game in a different way. James is so good at looking people off, his misdirection and the pace he has. He plays the game within himself, and Steve did that, also.’’
Harden is scoring 27.7 points per game and leading the league in assists, 11.9, which is easily a career high. And that has put him into the MVP hunt.
The addition of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon have turned the Rockets into a lethal long-range team. But, like in Phoenix, D’Antoni’s system is being put in play by the point guard.
Back on track?
Reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica played well — and, perhaps as a result, so did the Wolves bench — during a four-game stretch that began in New York on Dec. 2.
He averaged 11 points, shot 17-for-29 overall and made half of his 16 three-pointers in those games.
But in the fourth game in that stretch — a loss at Toronto Dec. 8 — he twisted his right ankle, missed two games, and was rather quiet in his return Tuesday in Chicago.
“I’m happy to be back because you don’t want to lose the rhythm of the game,’’ Bjelica said. “It’s very important.’’
It’s also important to Bjelica that he not have a rerun of last season, when a series of nagging injuries hampered him.
And Bjelica is key to the Wolves bench, his outside shot providing spacing for his teammates. The Wolves are last in the league in bench scoring at 22.5 points per game.
But Thibodeau has been willing to extend minutes when the bench is playing well, as it did at New York (47 points) and a night later in a victory in Charlotte (36).
• In his third season, Wolves guard Zach LaVine keeps learning about life in the NBA and life in Minnesota. These past two weekends, it was about the commute from his suburban home. “I just got snow tires,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.