Harden, Westbrook look to fuel Rockets past Suns

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James Harden and Russell Westbrook look for continued brilliance against the Phoenix Suns, this time as teammates, when the Houston Rockets open a two-game homestand on Saturday night.

The Rockets have beaten the Suns on 11 straight occasions, including three times last season. Harden had 30 or more points in each of those games in 2018-19.

The league’s leading scorer has feasted upon Phoenix in recent years, pouring in 40 or more points against them six times, all since April 2012.

Over that period of time, there have been a total of just 20 other 40-point explosions against the Suns. Four of those 20 were authored by Westbrook, then of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Suns haven’t seen Harden and Westbrook as teammates, but the first-year backcourt combination has worked well, leading Houston to a 14-7 record after a 119-109 road win over the defending-champion Toronto Raptors on Thursday night

Harden was limited to 23 points by the Raptors, but Westbrook came through with a triple-double featuring 19 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

Neither was the Rockets’ leading scorer in the impressive win. That honor went to Ben McLemore, who recorded a career-high eight 3-pointers to highlight a 28-point performance.

“James is more than happy to just draw the double team,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters. “Other than Russ and James, we took (44) 3s and made 19 of them. That’s what you got to do — wide-open 3s and just knock them down.”

Harden did more than just score in last year’s three-game sweep of the Suns. He complemented 41 points in the second meeting with 11 assists, and found time for 13 rebounds to go with 30 points in the third contest.

Westbrook’s history against the Suns includes a triple-double in October 2016 that was headlined by 51 points.

The Rockets have won three of four, with the only loss being the controversial overtime defeat at San Antonio that Houston has protested over a disallowed Harden dunk in the fourth quarter. Houston has averaged 128.2 points in its last six games.

The Suns, meanwhile, have allowed an average of 123.3 in their last six. But they’ve squeezed a pair of wins into the half-dozen, including a 139-132 overtime triumph at New Orleans on Thursday.

Devin Booker warmed up for his duel with Harden with a season-best 44 points against the Pelicans. It was his second game with 40 or more this year.

He hasn’t had the same measure of success against the Rockets that Harden has enjoyed versus the Suns. Booker, however, did counter his rival last season with 19- and 29-point games.

The win at New Orleans gives the Suns a chance to finish a four-game trip, one that began with a victory at Charlotte, with a winning record. But that would require ending a six-game losing streak at Houston that dates back to April 2016.

“This is a really big win and now we have a next tough game,” Suns forward Dario Saric told reporters. “If we can do some great things (at Houston), it’ll be a great trip for us.”

–Field Level Media

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