Rockets’ Westbrook resumes scorer role, faces Suns next

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The Houston Rockets belong to star guard James Harden, but every so often, the other former MVP on the roster gets to take the leading role.

Russell Westbrook is still one of the best players in the NBA, and he will look for another strong outing when the Rockets visit the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.

Westbrook scored a season-high 40 points and also collected 10 rebounds as the Rockets posted a 122-117 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

It was the 44th time he has scored at least 40 points in a game, and it’s the type of performance few would expect now that Westbrook is Harden’s sidekick.

But Westbrook is on a roll by topping 30 in three of the past five games. He is averaging 30.2 points during the stretch.

“I think he’s getting to the rim more,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters. “He’s trying to push the pace. I mean, he’s making his shots. The ones he is taking, he’s making. But I think it starts with him getting his confidence, getting to the rim and finishing.

“He’s getting more comfortable passing, and the speed that he does it, it creates a lot more opportunities.”

Westbrook, acquired in the offseason from the Oklahoma City Thunder, has season averages of 23.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists.

That rates as a higher scoring average than what he put up in Oklahoma City last season (22.9). The big dropoff comes in triple-doubles, as he has just six in one-third of a season after compiling 34 last season.

A big part of that is because Harden prefers having the ball in his hands. Westbrook has adapted to the style of his childhood friend, and Harden has increased his own scoring average to 38.5, topping the 36.1 mark of last season.

“It’s a new team and all that, and also with James,” D’Antoni said of Westbrook. “There’s a lot of stuff he has to process. I think he’s feeling a lot better and doing a lot better and more confident.”

Harden scored 28 points for the second straight game in the win over the Clippers. He also had 10 assists and became the franchise’s new all-time leader with 4,412, passing Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy (4,402 from 1970-83).

Westbrook and Harden will look to help Houston defeat the Suns for the 13th straight time.

Phoenix has dropped five straight games and 13 of its past 17 after suffering a 126-108 road loss to the Thunder on Friday night.

Shooting guard Devin Booker returned from a three-game absence due to a forearm injury and scored 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

“I feel good,” Booker told reporters afterward. “I’m excited to be back out there. Obviously, not the outcome that I want.”

Point guard Ricky Rubio enjoyed a strong outing for Phoenix with 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Rubio also had eight assists without committing a turnover.

Center Deandre Ayton sat out with an ankle injury that occurred against the Clippers on Tuesday. His status for the game against the Rockets wasn’t clear.

The game against Los Angeles was Ayton’s first since serving a 25-game suspension for use of a diuretic.

Phoenix is allowing an average of 118.6 points during its five-game slide. The Suns have lost the last two games by an average of 19.5 points.

“We’re in a tough stretch right now,” Booker said. “It’s my job, it’s our job as leaders on this team to dig ourselves out of this hole.”

–Field Level Media

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