Russell Westbrook and James Harden: The Rockets’ shot-creating titans

When Russell Westbrook and James Harden are at their best, they create a level of offensive firepower that’s unmatched in the NBA.

And the Houston Rockets, the Western Conference’s fourth-ranked team, are better because of their backcourt’s bucket-getting ways.

The Rockets earned their fifth straight win Wednesday, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 140-112. Westbrook poured in a game-high 33 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished eight assists. Harden scored 30 points, shooting 56.3% from the field and 58.3% from 3-point range.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the game marked the seventh time Harden and Westbrook have each scored 30 or more points; the Rockets are 6-1 in games where their star backcourt accomplishes this feat.

The Rockets have led in the NBA’s 3-point boom, leading the league in 3-point attempts the past three seasons.

And while they’re atop that category again this season, they’ve discovered what truly works best for them: letting Westbrook and Harden dominate defenses into oblivion.

Since the Rockets traded Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks, opting to play small ball with P.J. Tucker at center, the team’s new style has helped unlock Westbrook’s skill set. During February, Westbrook has averaged 32.3 points a game and shot 54.2% from the field, his highest percentage of the season so far.

With not having to feed a big man down low, the Rockets have a lot of space to work with. As one of the best finishers in the league, Westbrook can drive to the basket for easy buckets. According to NBA.com stats, Westbrook is shooting 65.6% on shots in the restricted area this month.

Westbrook has regularly put up superstar numbers throughout his career. Aside from Oscar Robertson, Westbrook is the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for a season — and he did it three consecutive seasons.

The recent stretch he’s been on, though, is different. He hasn’t ever had this much space to work with before. It’s as if he’s showing the world the full extent of what he can do. According to NBA.com stats, Westbrook leads the NBA in drives per game (20.3) and scores on those drives 11.5 points per game.

League leading scorer Harden, meanwhile, has continued to show why he’s one of the most skilled offensive players ever. He is averaging 33 points per game in February.

The Rockets’ new system has particularly benefited from Harden’s 3-point shooting, which had hit a slump in January.

During January, Harden shot 27.0% from the 3-point line, his second-lowest 3-point percentage for any month this season. In February, though, he is shooting 39.3% from deep. That number is his second-highest for any month behind December, when he shot 42.5% from beyond the arc.

Other than LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles, Westbrook and Harden are the league’s best duo this season. For players suiting up 10 or more minutes per game, Harden and Westbrook make up the only pair in which both players rank in the top 10 for usage percentage.

With their ability to create shots for themselves and others, Westbrook and Harden have an opportunity to lead the Rockets out of a tough Western Conference.

The Rockets will play the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Saturday, with tipoff set for 8:30 p.m. ET.

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