James Harden and Russell Westbrook are both one-man shows. They’re traveling visual art performances, spectacular and ridiculous, while simultaneously defying the team nature of the sport they play and showing the importance of a few good players around them. On Wednesday, after Westbrook had one the duo’s first clash of the year, Harden won out with just enough help from his teammates.
While Westbrook notched his seventh straight triple-double — the first to do that since Michael Jordan 27 years ago — Harden’s rough evening of 21 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists and 6-of-23 shooting still prevailed. The team outside of Harden rallied for 44-percent shooting and nine threes, and Patrick Beverley was as much the reason for Westbrook’s eight turnovers and 17 missed shots as anyone else.
Beverley’s always annoyed Westbrook. (He’s always annoyed nearly everyone, to be fair.) He forced a charge on Westbrook underneath Westbrook’s own basket on one of the game’s first possession, and his defense on Westbrook on the game’s penultimate possession forced him into an airballed three.
Beverley missed the first 11 games of the Rockets’ season with left knee irritation, but since returning, the Rockets are scorching. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games, including Friday’s win and a double-overtime victory against the Warriors about a week ago. He may not be a dominating force, but his added defense and capable offense (36 percent on three-pointers so far) has turned the Rockets into a wrecking ball.
The Rockets are still a bad defensive team, 18th best in the NBA this season and only a few decimal points better since Beverley returned. You can see Beverley clearly helps them guarding players like Westbrook, but the real benefit of his return has been the Rockets racking up an offensive rating of nearly 120 when he’s been on the floor these past 11 games. One more playmaker on this team — Beverley is averaging a career-high 4.6 assists and notched 12 earlier this week — has upped the Rockets from a scary offense to a Paranormal Activity sequel.
At 16-7, the Rockets are tied with the Clippers and just a couple games back of San Antonio for the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. The poor defenders they rely on puts a low ceiling on challenging the Warriors, but the offense is just so good on the other end that it’s hard to count them out against anyone else. Harden pays the bills, but the rest of the Rockets seem to have just the right mix around him to make this team lethal.
Lou Williams is the greatest scorer in Lakers history.*
Why Lou Williams decided to start destroying the world is beyond us, but his 137 points across four games is the most off the bench by any player since 1970. On Wednesday, he dropped 35, following games of 24, 38 and 40.
Extra shots opened up for Williams after Nick Young went down with an injury a couple weeks ago, but Williams has been binge scoring for Los Angeles since the season starters. He’s leading the Lakers with 19.3 points, without starting a game this season, and he’s doing it on 46.1-percent shooting and a career-best 40.6 percent behind the arc.
The 30-year-old combo guard doesn’t really fit into the Lakers’ long-term plans, of course, but he’s part of what’s making Los Angeles fun this year — even as they tread water with a 10-15 record, including dropping five straight. Williams’ scoring is bound for a regression to the mean, but you can’t stop us from enjoying it while it happens.
(* - Don’t @ me.)
Friday’s best performances
Lou Williams (35 points, 10-19 shooting, 6 threes)
Carmelo Anthony (33 points, 9-22 shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists)
Still maybe the most underappreciated pure scorer to ever play, Melo’s averaging 22 points on 44 percent shooting. Ho hum.
Wesley Matthews (26 points, 8-16 shooting, 5 threes)
Matthews has been on a tear over the past couple weeks. He also has hit a three in 33 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the NBA.
Derrick Williams (17 points)
I just think we should acknowledge that we’re a month from 2017 and Derrick Williams is leading a team in scoring. Oh, Miami.
Friday’s top play
Sam Dekker can dunk. Hi, Sam!
Other great moments from Friday
The Warriors all went to Ian Clark’s high school jersey retirement ceremony. Well, except Klay Thompson, who presumably couldn’t find a dogsitter.