James Harden and Russell Westbrook will suit up as teammates one year after dueling as rivals on Christmas Day when the Houston Rockets visit the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday afternoon.
The nationally televised contest originally was seen as a rematch of teams that have met four times in the last five postseasons, with Westbrook and D’Angelo Russell coming on board to join the Harden-Stephen Curry rivalry.
But Curry won’t face the Rockets this time around following surgery on his left hand, and Golden State no longer resembles the club that has ended Houston’s season in four of the last five years.
The Warriors will, however, bring a two-game winning streak — their first of the season — into the contest, which coach Steve Kerr noted earlier this week only adds to the fun of his team’s seventh straight Christmas appearance.
“Christmas is always a special day to play on,” Kerr insisted after Monday’s win over Minnesota. “You know that everybody is watching. It’s got a different vibe and a different feel, and our players are going to be really excited, and it will be good to go into that game with a little momentum.”
The Warriors have no such momentum in Christmas Day action, having alternated wins and losses the last six seasons. They were drubbed 127-101 by LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at home a year ago.
The attention-grabbing game that day turned out to be Houston’s 113-109 home win over Oklahoma City. Harden and Westbrook put on quite a show, with Harden pouring in 41 points, including the Rockets’ last hoop, while Westbrook countered with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for the Thunder.
With another rebound and assist Westbrook would have become the first in NBA history with two triple-doubles on Christmas Day. He remains tied with five other players, including Golden State’s Draymond Green, with one each.
Together now in Houston, Harden and Westbrook have led the Rockets to a 21-9 start after they’d been just 17-15 when they took the court on Christmas Day a year ago.
The Rockets won their fourth straight overall and sixth in a row on the road Monday in Sacramento, again with Harden (34 points) and Westbrook (28) leading the way.
Houston had been hoping to unwrap the present of Eric Gordon’s return from arthroscopic knee surgery from under its hotel-lobby tree in San Francisco on Christmas, but the star guard likely won’t be ready until sometime in January.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is counting the days.
“We’re playing a lot better,” he assured reporters. “Russell is playing better. This is our normal. And I think Eric coming back, if he can get to the levels he plays at, we should be powerful as hell.”
The clubs will be meeting for the second time this season. Harden (36 points) and Westbrook (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists) got plenty of help in a 129-112 home win in November, with P.J. Tucker (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Clint Capela (19 points, 16 rebounds) both recording double-doubles, while Austin Rivers added 12 points on perfect shooting (4-for-4) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Russell and Green sat out that game for the Warriors, who suited up just nine guys.
–Field Level Media