James Harden remains focused on securing the second seed in the Western Conference after the Houston Rockets fell to defeat at the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
The Rockets were beaten 108-94 at Fiserv Forum in a matchup touted as a battle between NBA MVP candidates Harden and the hosts' Giannis Antetokounmpo.
And although Harden out-scored his rival 23 points to 19, it was the Eastern Conference leading Bucks who prevailed to leave the Rockets joint-fourth in the West, four games behind the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets.
Finishing second would potentially allow the Rockets to avoid the double defending champion Warriors until the Conference finals, and Harden is happy with the team's progress following a stumbling start to the season.
"We got a chance to get to the second seed and who would have thought [that] after being in the 14th spot," Harden said.
"It is a process we continue to get better, it is a tough loss for us tonight, but we have seven games [left].
"We just need to take it game by game and have our stride ready come the postseason."
Harden was well-marshalled by the Bucks defense, who restricted the reigning MVP to just nine-of-26 shooting, including one-of-nine on three-point attempts.
"We've played them before, we knew they were going to guard us like that," Harden said. "With that being said, we still had open shots. We couldn't knock them down.
"I think we competed, but they went on a run in the third quarter and that was it."
And Harden's team-mate, Chris Paul, insisted the loss did nothing in his mind to alter the destination of this year's MVP award.
"James had a historic streak," Paul said. "I'm not impartial in this debate, I've seen James play a lot more, that does not mean that Giannis has not had a good season, it's been great for his team, but I see what Harden does every night."