Rockets' Harden, Nets' Irving meet in matchup of top scorers

James Harden and Kyrie Irving are the top two scorers in the NBA in the early going but their teams are experiencing differing degrees of success so far.

Heading into Friday's matchup in Brooklyn, Harden's Houston Rockets are on a three-game winning streak while Irving's Nets are struggling to find their footing and some consistency.

Harden leads the league by averaging 36.8 points. He raised his scoring average from 29.3 points by producing one of the most prolific nights of his career in a wild 159-158 win at Washington on Wednesday night.

Harden scored 59 points against the Wizards by going 18 of 32 from the floor and hitting six 3-pointers, along with the game-clinching free throw with 3.2 seconds left. It was Harden's 19th career regular-season game with at least 50 points, and the third-most points scored by two teams in a regulation game.

Harden's big night improved the Rockets to 3-1. Houston lost the first game of the Harden-Russell Westbrook pairing by blowing a big lead against the Milwaukee Bucks but has won three straight games by a combined eight points.

The Rockets needed every part of Harden's prolific production Wednesday because of a defense that allowed 62.6 percent shooting and 20 of 36 3-pointers by the Wizards.

"The only way we'll get to where we want to go is our defensive efforts, and it has to be consistent," Harden said. "Right now, we're not consistent and that's why we go through tough times like that. That's what the course of the year is for. We just try and build those habits and continue to keep building."

Houston enters its fifth game of the Harden-Westbrook pairing by averaging a league-leading 128 points, along with 26.8 assists per game, as Westbrook is averaging 10.3 assists after getting his 140th career triple-double Wednesday. Defensively, the Rockets are allowing 127.5 points and 49.5 percent shooting.

"We have to obviously tighten up our defense," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We do it in spurts."

Irving is averaging 35.3 points but the Nets are 1/3 so far. Brooklyn has lost a game in which Irving scored 50 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves and needed his go-ahead 3-pointer to beat the New York Knicks after blowing a 19-point lead.

Irving scored 28 points Wednesday but the Nets followed up a 134-133 loss at the Memphis Grizzlies with a 118-108 loss to the Indiana Pacers. His scoring average dropped slightly from 37.7 points and Brooklyn's loss took place after an ESPN story described his mood swings as making the Nets "queasy"

Irving's total of 141 points is the highest-scoring four-game stretch of his NBA career. He previously had 135 points in a four-game stretch with the Cleveland Cavaliers from Jan. 25-30, 2015, but his latest big night occurred when the Nets committed 19 turnovers and continued to be plagued by a lack of flow on offense, according to coach Kenny Atkinson, who has 10 new players.

"We're not really running anything," Atkinson said. "In training camp, you're practicing a lot, you've got nice flow, you know what you're doing. We've kind of lost a little bit of our structure and organization. Which is natural with a new team. New guys. We've got to play with each other more, get to know each other more."

One of Brooklyn's newcomers is DeAndre Jordan, and he likely will be the starting center for the third straight game after getting 17 rebounds in 22:36 on Wednesday.

Houston has won five of the last six meetings. Harden did not play in a 119-111 win at Brooklyn on Nov. 2, 2018, and scored 58 in a 145-142 overtime loss on Jan. 16.

--Field Level Media
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