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James Harden's MVP pursuit puts Houston Rockets into a tough spot

OAKLAND — Every year, there’s a different version of this same story.

As the NBA’s elite teams gear up for the postseason, there’s an individual award hanging in the balance or a team-wide regular-season record to chase that, in the end, matters far less than the prospect of winning a championship. And so it goes at the moment for the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, who has left wrist injury that is clearly affecting his play yet is forging on in pursuit of the best regular season record possible and the MVP award that he clearly doesn’t want to see the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook rip from his grips.

But here’s the thing about Harden’s against-the-grain stance in today’s era of rest-and-recovery: with the Rockets having proven to be the kind of darkhorse title contender who has the slightest of margin for error when it comes to the ultimate prize, the price that he and they might pay for this come playoff time is simply too high to risk it anymore. Especially when Houston (51-25) is all but guaranteed to be…

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