Spurs, Rockets square off in Texas showdown
Two superstars at the height of their games -- San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge and Houston's James Harden -- will be on display on Thursday when the Spurs and Rockets clash at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
Thursday's game is just the second time the teams have played this season, with two more meetings -- March 12 in San Antonio and April 1 in Houston -- still to come.
The Rockets dominated San Antonio in a 124-109 win on Dec. 15 in Space City, leading from start to finish as both Chris Paul and Harden scored 28 points for Houston to more than balance out the 16 points in the game for Aldridge, who paced San Antonio.
The Spurs head into Thursday's game with wins in four of their past five games, including a 106-104 victory on Tuesday over Denver in which Aldridge scored 30 points.
Kyle Anderson and Pau Gasol added 18 points each for the Spurs while Manu Ginobili scored 14 points and Dejounte Murray pulled down 13 rebounds (10 on the defensive glass) and dished out seven assists but did not score a point.
"That's definitely the Spurs way -- sharing the ball, playing defense and just playing together," Murray said. "That's what we did and we came out with a good win."
Anderson's 18 points on 9 of 12 shooting were a career-high while San Antonio's 33 assists tied a season-best.
"I just try to play well," Anderson said. "I tried to be effective, be a little more aggressive and get to the rim. That's all I can do is find guys when they're open. That's how I've seen the game of basketball my whole life. Just try to use my smarts or a pump fake or double clutch. Whatever it is, just trying to find a way around it."
Aldridge, who was chosen as a reserve for the Western Conference in the upcoming All-Star Game, has carried San Antonio for most of the campaign while star forward Kawhi Leonard remains on the shelf rehabbing an offseason quad injury.
Aldridge has scored 20-plus points in 33 of his 50 games this season, two more than his previous best for 20-point games (31 in 74 games during his inaugural season with the Spurs in 2016). His 30-point game Tuesday was the ninth time he's scored at least that many points this season.
The Rockets travel west to the Alamo City on the heels of a 114-107 home win over Orlando in which Harden became the first player in league history to score 60 points as part of a triple-double (10 rebounds and 11 assists).
Harden racked up 18 points in the final quarter to set Houston's single-game scoring record, besting the 57 points scored by Calvin Murphy in 1978.
"I just gave it all I had tonight - we all did," Harden said. "We all fought for 48 minutes, we got key stops when we needed to and we made big shots.
Harden's final four points came when he was fouled while canning a 3-point shot with 45 seconds to play.
This was Harden's fourth 50-point game this season; Tuesday's performance supplanted his previous career-high of 56 points set in November versus Utah.
The Rockets played without Paul (groin injury), and Trevor Ariza (hamstring) and then lost Eric Gordon to a lower back injury in the second quarter. That meant Harden had to pick up the slack, and did he ever. He was on the court for 46 minutes and 26 seconds, a career-high for a regulation game.
"I just try to go out there and make an impact every single night on the game, however I can," Harden said. "Whether it's scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, whatever it is. And tonight I guess I was doing everything."
The two teams will meet for the 201st time on Thursday; the Spurs lead the all-time series with Houston 106-84 and own a 65-29 advantage in San Antonio.
Updated February 1, 2018