NBA on Sling: Westbrook Seeks 7th Straight Triple-Double as OKC Faces Rockets, Suns and Lakers Each Ride Losing Streaks Into Showdown
Houston Rockets (15-7) vs Oklahoma City Thunder(14-8)
8pm ET on ESPN
Exacting vengeance with extreme prejudice, the Houston Rockets on Tuesday made the Los Angeles Lakers pay dearly for an Opening Day defeat by trouncing the Lakers 134-95. The Rockets burst out of the gate, using runs of 8-0 and 11-0 to take a 43-27 lead in the first quarter, with Eric Gordon coming off the bench to drain all four of his 3-point attempts for 12 points. Gordon would finish the night with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a career-high 8 three-pointers. James Harden very quietly filled his stat line, dropping 25 points, with 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals. Houston would blow things open in the 3rd quarter, going on a 22-6 run that effectively ended the game. The Rockets dominated all facets, outshooting LA 54% to 39%, outrebounded them 52-39, had an assist advantage of 35-14, and had 20 steals to LA’s 13. The Rockets are riding a 4-game winning streak, and have come out on top in 9 of their last 11. It would seem for now that Harden is winning the breakup with Dwight Howard.
Winners of their last 6 games and coming off three days rest, Russell Westbrook and Co. are eager to get back to work. Their last win, on Monday, was a 102-99 nailbiter over the Hawks, in which OKC nearly blew a 9-point 4th-quarter lead, before Atlanta’s Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a potential game-tying 29-footer with 2 seconds on the clock. Russell Westbrook recorded his sixth consecutive triple-double, and 11th of the season, as he continues to average a triple-double for the season with 31 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists. Victor Oladipo, who was brought in to help fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Kevin Durant, continues to play well, averaging 17-4-3, but has weirdly lost his touch from the charity stripe, making just 62% of his freebies after coming into the season as a career 81% free throw shooter.
The last time Harden and Westbrook met, back in November, Westbrook’s Thunder erased a 5-point 4th-quarter deficit to win 105-103, with Westbrook going 30-7-9, while Harden had an off night, scoring 13 of 4-of-16 shooting, though he did have 7 boards and 13 dimes.
Phoenix Suns (6-16) vs Los Angeles Lakers (10-14)
10:30pm ET on ESPN
What was already shaping up as a bad season for the Phoenix Suns took a turn for the worse last month with the news that forward TJ Warren would be out indefinitely with a “minor head injury.” The Suns were 4-9 at the time, since then they’ve gone 2-7, the latest indignity coming Wednesday against the Pacers, who beat them 109-94. Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix with just 15 points, and did so on 5-of-13 shooting, while Tyson Chandler went 10-10, but the Suns have neither the offensive firepower or the defensive muscle to compete. The one bright spot thus for has been the development of sophomore Devin Booker, who’s averaging 19 ppg, though he’s shooting just 42.4% – but that is a modest improvement over last seasons’s mark of 42.3%.
The 2016-17 season began with so much promise for the Lakers, who started the season 7-5, and appeared to be reveling in the freedom from the death grip of the Black Mamba. But since then they’ve gone 3-9, as D’Angelo Russell went down with a sore knee in late November, and Nick Young got sidelined a week later with a bad hammy. Being without two of your top five scorers makes it exceedingly difficult to win in the NBA. The last loss, as noted above, was a 134-95 throttling at the hands of the Rockets. Lou Williams led LA with 24 – including a 3-quarter-court desperation heave at the buzzer heading into the half, but had 6 turnovers to just 3 assists, and Julius Randle scored 21, to go along with 10 rebounds. Until these guys get healthy, all they can do is pray that the schedule brings them more cupcakes like the Suns.
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