LOS ANGELES — The great Willis Reed, who served as a sensei for us NBA novices in the Hornets’ two Oklahoma City seasons, offered all kinds of wisdom about pro basketball. Including this one: Role players don’t travel. Stars are stars be they home, road or on the moon, went Reed’s theory. But the blue-collar, help-out, fill-a-niche players who are so reliable in friendly confines? Best not count on them in road games. Which brings us to the Staples Center tonight, when the Thunder seeks to knock down the staggering Lakers and set up a wild West Friday with a chance to pull an epic series upset back at the Ford Center. Could happen, if rookie James Harden disproves Willis Reed. Harden has been the starkest difference between the Thunder’s two losses in LA and its two victories on Reno. Harden has been like Seinfeld’s girlfriend: hideous one day, gorgeous the next. In both Staples Center games, Harden went scoreless, a difficult feat for a man averaging 9.9 points a game. The Thunder sixth man missed five shots combined and had one assist, one rebound and one turnover. The turnover was embarrassing; Kobe snatched the ball from Harden like a bully taking lunch money. Harden looked lost. Worse, he looked scared. Scott Brooks played Harden barely 16 minutes in Game 1, less than 10 minutes in Game 2. But back in OKC, Harden had 18 points in Game 3, 15 points in Game 4. Harden kept the Thunder afloat in the first half of Game 3, when the Lakers threatened to blow open the game. Harden’s numbers were primo: 54 percent shooting, 62.5 percent 3-point shooting, 14-of-16 from the foul line, totals of 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and one turnover. That’s one heck of a homestand. Harden had gone from role player to on-a-roll player. And if the Thunder is to knock off the Lakers tonight, or in a Game 7 at the Staples, Harden has to show. The Boomers don’t have enough offensive firepower for their fourth-leading scorer to go bellyup. Brooks has heard the role-players-don’t-travel theory and doesn’t even dispute it. "That’s usually been the history of the league,” Brooks said. "In fairness to James, I didn’t play him many minutes.” In fairness to Brooks, if he had played Harden more, the Lakers might have won in two blowouts, rather than tightly contested affairs. When Harden is playing well, the Thunder offense hums. Harden usually is in for defensive whiz Thabo Sefolosha, so the Thunder has scorers all over the perimeter. Durant. Westbrook. Jeff Green. When Harden is driving and dishing and finishing at the hoop and knocking down 3-pointers, the Thunder is hard to guard. "It’s huge for us,” teammate Nick Collison. "We’ve been missing some perimeter shooting. He gives us that scorer off the bench. Hopefully, he’ll stay aggressive. I think he will.” We’ll see. Another Reed adage — young teams feed off the home crowd — works against Harden. The Staples Center isn’t the nuthouse the Ford Center was these last two games and never will be. But Laker games have their own kind of environmental pressure. Stage lighting. Celebrities sitting courtside. Those regal jerseys that proclaim basketball excellence. Harden wilted under such a spotlight last week. "It’s a matter of being aggressive and not being passive,” Harden said. "Just having energy.” Harden is an unassuming player. Little flash. But when he’s aggressive, he can drive the paint, get to the basket and/or draw a foul. He’s a nifty passer, too, the Thunder’s best next to Westbrook. That lack of flash is refreshing. It’s one of the charms that made Sam Presti want to draft Harden. But that nature can sometimes drift into passivity. Harden can go missing. He can let the game pass him by. "I just want him to be aggressive going to the basket,” Brooks said. "That first shot doesn’t have to be a three. If you’re open, you have to take it, but don’t look for it.” Strange thing is, Harden has been a good road player this season. His numbers are much better away from home: 10.6 points (9.2 at home), 3.3 rebounds (3.1), 41.8 percent shooting (38.6), 39.8 3-point shooting (34.8). Repeat those road numbers tonight or Sunday in Game 7, and Harden could be a role player traveling to the second round of the playoffs. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.