Even if the comparisons make you cringe, it’s hard not to see the glaring similarities.
For much of the night, Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic, who turns 20 on Feb. 28, stayed stride for stride, shot for shot with reigning NBA MVP James Harden of the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Toyota Center.
But in the end, Harden and the Rockets had too much, and just when it seemed liked Doncic had outplayed him, Harden exploded with an 11-point burst in the final 2:32 to not only lead a 120-104 win but also stretch his 30 or more points streak to 30 games. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Doncic, finished with a more pedestrian 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
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The obvious comparisons, however, were evident from the jump as Doncic came out firing, making 4 of 6 shots for 10 points in the first quarter. He nailed a 29-foot, step-back 3 in Harden’s face for his first points of the game and moments later awed the crowd with a smooth finger roll layup on a drive to the basket.
Harden started the game 1 for 7 from the field but made 8 of his last 16 shots. During his current 30-point stretch, he’s averaging over 40 points and 7.5 assists a game.
So comparing Doncic to Harden at this moment may seem silly.
“He’s playing a different game than the rest of us are playing,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, with a rare laugh. “It’s really an amazing phenomenon to watch. The level of consistency he is establishing with this style is really something we’ve never seen before.”
But Harden’s trademarked step-back 3 has become a similar skill in Doncic’s bag of tricks. Like Harden, Doncic shows remarkable court awareness for his teammates, and helps them score as much as he helps himself. Even Carlisle admits the similarities, even if he’s loath to compare Doncic with an established 29-year-old, 10-year veteran.
“They’re both amazing play-makers. Of course, Luka is much younger. But there are similarities for sure,” he said. “In no way am I saying they’re the same player or anything like that, but there is some similarity for sure.”