CHICAGO • James Harden was the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) last season, and it was easy to see why on Saturday night.
The guard narrowly missed out on a triple-double when he scored 42 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had nine assists, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 117-94 win over the Chicago Bulls at the United Centre.
But it was his mentality of never giving up, even when he was down, that truly makes him a winner.
After going two for seven (including one for five on three-pointers) in the first quarter, he went 10 for 20 the rest of the game, including eight for 14 on threes.
"That's the confidence I have," he told ESPN. "That's the confidence that I've built off of the work I put in. It's more of a mindset."
Mike D'Antoni also believes that his star player is "a master of getting what he wants". Much as the Rockets coach was impressed with Harden, he also recognised his players need to improve defensively.
He said: "We held them under 100 giving up 22 turnovers, and that's hard to do."
In contrast, the Bulls turned the ball over 15 times in the game.
Russell Westbrook added 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting for Houston (6-3), who won their third game in a row. Danuel House Jr recorded a game-high six steals to go along with 11 points and Clint Capela finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds.
Wendell Carter Jr was among four players with 13 points to lead the Bulls (3-7). He also had 16 rebounds. Chandler Hutchison scored 13 in his first start of the season in place of Otto Porter Jr, who has a sprained left foot. Lauri Markkanen and Thaddeus Young also added 13 points each.
Chicago followed a victory with a loss for the third time this season. They are yet to win back-to-back games.
The Rockets outscored the Bulls 36-18 in the third quarter to turn a one-point edge into a lopsided lead.
Westbrook started the outburst with a jump shot and a free throw, and Harden added to the run by making a pair of free throws and a three-pointer.
Capela contributed a lay-up before Westbrook made another basket on an assist by House.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Rockets led by 19. The lead ballooned beyond 20 points when Harden made a three-pointer with 6min 58sec remaining.
Chicago guard Zach LaVine, who had 11 points and five assists, said: "I think we did really good in the first half; they just broke it open in the third quarter.
"We played a good first half and a bad second half."