On paper, the pairing of Russell Westbrook and James Harden seemed like a great idea for the Houston Rockets — and it still might be. So far, though, the experiment hasn't worked as planned.
The Rockets acquired Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder in July. As part of the deal, Houston sent Chris Paul, two protected first-round picks, and other draft considerations to OKC.
Houston has looked good at times through the early stages of this season. However, they've also looked rather bad in other games. They're 11-6, but they're currently riding the wave of a three-game losing streak. Prior to their run of losses, the Rockets racked up eight straight wins.
Westbrook isn't the only reason the Rockets have struggled in recent games, but his shot from outside hasn't helped their cause. In fact, he's posted a 23.0 percent mark from downtown through Houston's first 17 games. Making things worse is the fact that he currently has a negative net rating (-0.6).
To be fair, Russ has never been known as a great three-point shooter, but that is one of the lowest marks of his career. He went 22.0 percent from beyond the arc in his second season with the Thunder.
Harden and Westbrook have played fairly well on the court together. However, when Houston plays Westbrook without Harden, the results have been far worse. The team's offensive rating goes from 108.6 when Harden is on the court with Westbrook to 102.8 without him. Maybe more importantly, their defensive rating goes from 102.4 with The Beard to 119.3 without him.
Westbrook has missed some shots with the Rockets, including one against the Clippers last week that may have sealed a win. He added 22 points in that game before fouling out late.
“We didn't finish the way we needed to, obviously, but we were very, very confident,” Harden said after Friday night's 122-119 loss to the Clippers, via ESPN.
Scoring, in general, doesn't seem to be the issue, though.
Harden and Westbrook are averaging 20-plus points per game. According to ESPN, the last time Houston had two players averaging that many points in a season was 2007-08 with Yao Ming (22.0) and Tracy McGrady (21.6).
Westbrook had 27 points in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Mavericks, going 8-for-20 from the field (2-of-5 from beyond the arc). He knocked down nine of his ten attempts at the free-throw line but finished with a plus/minus of -23.
To put Sunday's loss into perspective, the Mavericks racked up 45 points in the first quarter and were up 78-60 at halftime. The Rockets put up 44 threes, making just 10.
“They punched us good and we fall all the way back,” Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said after Sunday's 137-123 loss to the Mavs, via ESPN. “A lot of time when you do that, you run out of gas.”
Westbrook says he isn't that concerned about losing three straight. Instead, he's interested to see who can remain strong through the adversity:
“Definitely, I’m not worried one bit,” Westbrook said after Sunday's loss, via Mark Berman of KRIV. “I’ll tell you right now, honestly I’m encouraged.”
Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) says it’s too early to be concerned about the #Rockets losing three straight: “Definitely, I’m not worried one bit. I’ll tell you right now, honestly I’m encouraged.” pic.twitter.com/rRWZrNT8fn
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) November 24, 2019
It's certainly not time for Rockets fans to panic, as the season is still relatively young. Their next shot at claiming a victory comes on Tuesday night, when they'll serve as hosts to the Miami Heat.