HOUSTON — Heckling and trash talking from fans is nothing new to Houston Rockets star James Harden.
As the back-to-back scoring champion and reigning MVP, it comes with the territory.
Although he doesn’t respond to most of it, Harden certainly notices words being said from time to time and ranks the fans at Vivint Arena as some of the most aggressive in the NBA.
With the Utah Jazz set to host Houston in Games 3 and 4 of the first-round series, the games will be played on Saturday and Monday, both tipping off at 8:30 p.m. MDT.
Houston leads the series, 2-0, after Wednesday’s second consecutive blowout victory at the Toyota Center.
“Yeah, but like I said, I don’t really pay attention to the crowd and the fans,” Harden said of the Jazz fans. “The job that I have to do is already hard enough so you can’t listen to other stuff that you can’t control and just add extra stuff to your plate that you can’t worry about.”
The Jazz sold out every home game during the regular season for the fifth time in franchise history, but the first since 1992-93.
Special T-shirts, interactive Jazz street art, an outdoor fan festival and other activities will be on display to celebrate the Jazz’s third consecutive playoff appearance.
In Game 3, the Jazz will wear the City Edition uniforms with red, yellow and orange “Take Note” T-shirts placed on each chair, then in Game 4, white T-shirts will be given to all fans with the team wearing the Association Edition white jerseys.
But even as positive as the organization is approaching the fan experience for the playoffs, Jazz fans have been in the spotlight this season, which resulted in a permanent ban of two fans for inappropriate behavior geared toward Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
The most recent incident happened March 11 when the Jazz hosted the Thunder; the other one took place during the 2018 postseason.
Before Game 4 of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff matchup against the Jazz, a fan called Westbrook “boy," which resulted in the second ban.
Although Harden was familiar with the incident, he said the Rockets are just prepared to “go out there and hoop” in Utah. He's currently averaging 30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists, while coming off a triple-double performance in Game 2, during this year's Jazz series.
“I don’t worry about the fans and what they do and what they talk about,” Harden said. “My job is to go out there and play hard on the basketball court and try to come away with a win. I can’t control what they got going on and what they do and all that stuff.”
Harden has been involved in two incidents with fans, including when a fan was banned for using a laser pointer during a game. The fan received a season ban.
During last season's playoffs, Harden slapped a phone out of a fan's hand in Houston after the fan called Harden the "worst flopper in the NBA."
Rockets guard Chris Paul agrees with Harden that they can’t get caught up with things that are out of their control as far as fan behavior.
“They have been here, we have been there, so it’s two teams that are very familiar with each other,” Paul said. “For us, we got enough vets to know that we did what we’re supposed to do. We supposed to win your home games, so Game 3 is a big game for us, and we know they’ll be a lot more comfortable going into their home court with their home fans, but fortunately we’ve been there before.”