Harden, Paul a for­mi­da­ble Hous­ton duo

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Sports - By Brian Ma­honey

James Harden and new team­mate Chris Paul are on a tear for the Hous­ton Rock­ets thus far this year, prompt­ing pun­dits to com­pare the back­court to other no­table com­bi­na­tions in the NBA.

The de­bate has stretched from coast to coast and all the way up to Canada.

When it comes to the NBA’s best back­court, Golden State, Port­land, Wash­ing­ton and Toronto can all make a very good case.

But if James Harden and Chris Paul keep this up, the an­swer is go­ing to be deep in the heart of Texas.

The All-Star guards have the Hous­ton Rock­ets on top of the West­ern Con­fer­ence with a 16-4 record, rolling to five straight vic­to­ries head­ing into their game Wed­nes­day against In­di­ana.

“We just hoop,” Paul said. “We spent a lot of re­ally good time with each other in the sum­mer, you know what I mean, to try to build some of that chem­istry. “Now we just play.” Harden leads the NBA with 31.6 points per game and his 9.8 as­sists per night also lead the league — but only be­cause Paul isn’t el­i­gi­ble. He is av­er­ag­ing 10.8 as­sists, but hasn’t played enough games to qual­ify be­cause of a knee in­jury.

He’s been ter­rific in the six games he has played, all Rock­ets wins. Af­ter a 14-as­sist, no-turnover night in a vic­tory over Brook­lyn on Mon­day, Paul not only has the best as­sist-to-turnover ra­tio in the league, but also has nearly twice as many steals (13) as turnovers (7) for the sea­son.

De­spite their re­sumes, there were ques­tions about how the tan­dem would work when the Rock­ets ac­quired Paul from the Clip­pers over the sum­mer. Harden flour­ished last sea­son when Mike D’An­toni moved him to point guard, which is Paul’s po­si­tion.

There’s no prob­lem yet, as Harden has picked up right where he left off when he was run­ner-up to Rus­sell West­brook for MVP hon­ors last sea­son. He has scored 20 or more in all 20 games to open a sea­son, join­ing LeBron James and Carmelo An­thony as the only play­ers to do that over the last 10 sea­sons.

The Rock­ets only re­cently got Paul back from his long lay­off af­ter their sea­son- open­ing vic­tory at Golden State, so things could get even bet­ter when Mike D’An­toni fig­ures out how best to max­i­mum his dy­na­mite duo.

“So we’ll see ex­actly how we want the ro­ta­tions to go as it goes on,” D’An­toni said, “but I’d even have a hard time mess­ing this up.”

BROTHERLY BAT­TLE

Marc Gasol couldn’t get off the bench in the fourth quar­ter of his last game in what be­came David Fiz- dale’s fi­nal act as Mem­phis coach.

When Gasol gets back on the floor Wed­nes­day, it will be against his brother.

Marc and older brother Pau will face each other in San An­to­nio, mak­ing the Gasol matchup the fifth most-played one be­tween broth­ers in NBA his­tory.

The opener of a home­and-home se­ries will be the 25th reg­u­lar-sea­son game pit­ting the Gasol broth­ers, break­ing a tie with Ji­mand John Pax­son. Still ahead of the Ga­sols — who were once part of the same trade — ac­cord­ing to the NBA: Tom and Dick Van Ars­dale (56), Do­minique and Ger­ald Wilkins (42), Ge­orge and Ed Mikan (30), and Ho­race and Har­vey Grant (28).

It’s the start of a tough stretch for the Griz­zlies, losers of eight in a row, un­der in­terim coach J.B. Bick­er­staff. Af­ter the two games against the Spurs, Mem­phis plays Satur­day at Cleve­land — where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren’t happy about the fir­ing of Fiz­dale, an as­sis­tant in Mi­ami when they played for the Heat.

GAMES TOWATCH THISWEEK

— Min­nesota at New Or­leans, Wed­nes­day. The Pel­i­cans beat Ok­la­homa City and San An­to­nio last week, and now have a chance to show they are round­ing into form by beat­ing an­other qual­ity op­po­nent.

— Min­nesota at Ok­la­homa City, Fri­day. The Thun­der strug­gle might­ily in close games, and the Timberwolves have al­ready beaten them by two and three points this sea­son.

— Phoenix at Bos­ton, Satur­day. Devin Booker be­came the sixth NBA player with a 70-point game in his last visit to Bos­ton.

ERIC CHRIS­TIAN SMITH — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hous­ton Rock­ets guard Chris Paul (3) and guard James Harden talk dur­ing a time­out dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NBA basketball game against the Brook­lyn Nets, Mon­day in Hous­ton. Hous­ton won the game 117-103.

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