Westbrook, Harden square off with streaks on line
If these are the dog days of the NBA regular season, that point on the schedule when weary legs and wayward focus undermine productivity, some players appear impervious to such frailties.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden are on that short list, their performances peaking as the All-Star break approaches.
On Thursday, Westbrook recorded his eighth consecutive triple-double with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in a 117-95 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He will attempt to match the NBA record of nine consecutive triple-doubles set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68 when Oklahoma City visits Houston on Saturday.
As for Harden, he has scored at least 30 points in 28 consecutive games, the third-longest such streak in NBA history. The top two spots belong to Wilt Chamberlain, who had a 65-game run and a 31-game run in the early 1960s. Harden scored 36 points Wednesday in the Rockets' 127-101 win at Sacramento.
After averaging a triple-double in each of the previous two seasons, Westbrook is doing so again this campaign. During his current eight-game tear, he is producing 19.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 14.5 assists per game, and the Thunder have won seven times during that stretch.
Pace of play remains critical to Oklahoma City, which ranks second overall behind the Atlanta Hawks with 104 possessions per 48 minutes. With Westbrook lately posting triple-doubles as an afterthought, the Thunder have increased their pace to 105.5 over the past eight games.
"Pace is big for our team," Westbrook said to NBA.com following the win over Memphis. "There's a lot of space and an opportunity to make plays. That's what I tried to do."
While the Western Conference standings remain in perpetual flux, the Thunder appear to be strengthening their grip on the third seed. The Rockets, currently in fifth place in the West, remain intent upon to make a push up those standings.
It came as little surprise that the Rockets were active at the trade deadline, acquiring guard Iman Shumpert from the Sacramento Kings while jettisoning James Ennis III (to the Philadelphia 76ers), Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight (both to the Cleveland Cavaliers) to free roster spots in order to aggressively pursue additions via what should be a robust buyout market.
Those moves completed the exodus of the five players the Rockets adding during the past offseason, with Carmelo Anthony and Michael Carter-Williams traded earlier this season.
Shumpert is expected to make his Rockets debut against the Thunder. He was put in an odd position on Wednesday when Houston played at Sacramento, cleaning out his locker just prior to his former team playing the team that acquired him only hours earlier.
While the Rockets showed no ill effects of the roster upheaval, they appeared to take advantage of a Kings squad caught in the middle of several players departing while reinforcements had yet to arrive.
"You know, what's funny is the trade deadline and young teams like that add a couple trades, and it can mess you up," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said postgame. "So I don't think we saw the best that they've been. And it happens."
Harden snapped out of his 3-point shooting slump against the Kings, finishing 8 of 13 from behind the arc after shooting just 31.9 percent from long range over his previous 12 games.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 9, 2019