So far, so good for Rockets and Wolves, but not for Thunder
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 25: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets celebrates after the win against the Philadelphia 76ers October 25, 2017 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press
Houston, Minnesota and Oklahoma City were the three Western Conference teams that loaded up for runs at Golden State in the summer.
So far, so good for the Rockets and Timberwolves.
“They’re good. Both of those teams are really good,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said.
So is Boston, which also made big changes over the summer and is an NBA-best 9-2 with nine straight victories despite losing Gordon Hayward for the season in its opener.
The Thunder are going to need a little longer.
The Rockets (8-3) are tied with the Warriors atop the West, with the Wolves (7-3) just a half-game back and riding their first five-game winning streak since early 2009 into their game at Golden State on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time).
Way down toward the bottom of the West standings were the Thunder, who are just 4-6 with three straight losses after falling 94-86 in Sacramento on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time).
Even though they’ve barely had Chris Paul on the floor, the Rockets’ other acquisitions, including Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker, have given them more versatile players who can defend multiple positions. And James Harden is perhaps the NBA’s most dangerous offensive player, ranking in the top three in scoring and assists.
In Minnesota, newcomers Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford have provided enough scoring around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins that the Wolves are rolling even without yet playing typical Tom Thibodeau defense. They are four games over .500 for the first time since 2007.
Clifford’s team has seen both up close. The Rockets routed the Hornets 109-93 and the Wolves beat Charlotte 112-94.
“I would say this: To have a chance against Golden State, you have to be able to score. Those two teams really can score,” Clifford said.
“[The Wolves] are playing four guys out there that can make you look bad all the time and then they bring Crawford off the bench. They have firepower plus they execute, and then Houston obviously, especially once they get their guys back, they’re similar.”
Oklahoma City’s defense has been excellent, just behind Boston for fewest points per game in the league, but the offense isn’t where it will probably get to after adding Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, who combined to go 8 for 33 in Sacramento. The Thunder started are 0-5 in conference play and blew an 18-point halftime lead in a loss to Boston.
“It’s good to struggle now. This is our first year together,” George told reporters after that game.
“It’s a long run. We’ll be fine.”
The two players who have scored 50 points in a game this season — and the NBA’s active leaders in 50-point games — match up Thursday when LeBron James leads Cleveland into Houston to face James Harden and the Rockets.
James scored 57 points in Washington last Friday (last Saturday, PHL time). Harden had 56 along with 13 assists in just 35 minutes two nights later in a victory over Utah.
That was James’ 11th 50-point game, which tied Allen Iverson for sixth in NBA history. He is three behind Rick Barry for a spot in the top five.
Harden has six 50-point games.
COMING UP THIS WEEK:
— Lakers at Boston, Wednesday (Saturday, PHL time). The Celtics try for their 10th straight victory when they host their longtime rivals.
— Oklahoma City at Denver, Thursday (Friday, PHL time). Russell Westbrook had perhaps the signature performance in his MVP season last time he played in Denver, hitting the winning three-pointer at the buzzer to cap a 50-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist night that gave him a record 42nd triple-double.
— Miami at Utah, Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Better hope the outside shots are falling, because it won’t be easy to get anything inside with Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside around.
— Memphis at Houston, Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). The Grizzlies already own two victories over the Rockets.
— Lakers at Milwaukee, Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). Lonzo Ball has frequently been compared to Jason Kidd, and now he plays against Kidd’s team that has added Eric Bledsoe in a trade with Phoenix.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Kristaps Porzingis, New York: With a career-high 40 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots on Sunday (Monday, PHL time) against Indiana, the 7’3” forward became the first Knicks player with at least 40 points, five rebounds and five blocks since Patrick Ewing on March 7, 1995, against Boston.