As much as James Harden tried to steer a conversation with reporters Monday toward Game 1 of the second-round playoff series between the Rockets and Clippers -- set for that evening at Houston's Toyota Center -- many of the questions veered back toward his feelings about not winning the NBA's most valuable player award.
Golden State's Stephen Curry was announced Monday as the winner of the MVP award. Harden, who was second in the league in scoring (27.4 points per game) during the regular season, was No. 2 in the voting.
"It's tough," Harden said after the Rockets' shoot-around, "but it's the second round of the playoffs and I've got more and better things to worry about, and that's the Clippers. They are a very good team that's coming in and got it rolling right now. [The award] didn't work out, but it's more season to play."
The Rockets got to this round of the playoffs by dispatching the Dallas Mavericks in five games.
"Obviously, the individual award, the MVP, it's something that's amazing," Harden said. "But like I said, we've got a great opportunity and I'm not going to let that one little individual award affect what we've got going on in this locker room."
Harden was asked if he has any more motivation in this Western Conference semifinal series because he didn't win the MVP award.
"I've been motivated all year," Harden said. "That's the way I approach every single game. So it's no different."
Harden said he watched how Chris Paul led the Clippers to a thrilling Game 7 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to close out their first-round series Saturday night.
He said he was impressed by Paul's ability to play with a strained left hamstring and still dominate. The Clippers are listing Paul as questionable for Game 1.
"He's their leader," Harden said. "He's their director on the court. He gets them going. So it's going to be tough for them. But like I said, we can't worry about if he's playing or not. We've got to prepare like he's playing. He was injured most of that Game 7 and he still led them to victory. He's still going to be a great player if he's injured or not."
The Rockets have been home resting, having five days off since they last played. By contrast, the Clippers played Saturday night, jumped on a plane Sunday and have to play Monday night.
"We have to come out with all the energy," Harden said. "They'll coming off a tough Game 7. We've got to get it going from the beginning of the game."