By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
The debate has stretched from coast to coast and all the way up to Canada.
When it comes to the NBA’s best backcourt, Golden State, Portland, Washington and Toronto can all make a very good case.
But if James Harden and Chris Paul keep this up, the answer is going to be deep in the heart of Texas.
The All-Star guards have the Houston Rockets on top of the Western Conference with a 16-4 record, rolling to five straight victories heading into their game Wednesday against Indiana.
“We just hoop,” Paul said. “We spent a lot of really good time with each other in the summer, you know what I mean, to try to build some of that chemistry.
“Now we just play.”
Harden leads the NBA with 31.6 points per game and his 9.8 assists per night also lead the league — but only because Paul isn’t eligible. He is averaging 10.8 assists, but hasn’t played enough games to qualify because of a knee injury.
He’s been terrific in the six games he has played, all Rockets wins. After a 14-assist, no-turnover night in a victory over Brooklyn on Monday, Paul not only has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, but also has nearly twice as many steals (13) as turnovers (7) for the season.
Despite their resumes, there were questions about how the tandem would work when the Rockets acquired Paul from the Clippers over the summer. Harden flourished last season when Mike D’Antoni moved him to point guard, which is Paul’s position.
There’s no problem yet, as Harden has picked up right where he left off when he was runner-up to Russell Westbrook for MVP honors last season. He has scored 20 or more in all 20 games to open a season, joining LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony as the only players to do that over the last 10 seasons.
The Rockets only recently got Paul back from his long layoff after their season-opening victory at Golden State, so things could get even better when Mike D’Antoni figures out how best to maximum his dynamite duo.
“So we’ll see exactly how we want the rotations to go as it goes on,” D’Antoni said, “but I’d even have a hard time messing this up.”
Marc Gasol couldn’t get off the bench in the fourth quarter of his last game in what became David Fizdale’s final act as Memphis coach.
When Gasol gets back on the floor Wednesday, it will be against his brother.
Marc and older brother Pau will face each other in San Antonio, making the Gasol matchup the fifth most-played one between brothers in NBA history.
The opener of a home-and-home series will be the 25th regular-season game pitting the Gasol brothers, breaking a tie with Jim and John Paxson. Still ahead of the Gasols — who were once part of the same trade — according to the NBA: Tom and Dick Van Arsdale (56), Dominique and Gerald Wilkins (42), George and Ed Mikan (30), and Horace and Harvey Grant (28).
It’s the start of a tough stretch for the Grizzlies, losers of eight in a row, under interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. After the two games against the Spurs, Memphis plays Saturday at Cleveland — where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren’t happy about the firing of Fizdale, an assistant in Miami when they played for the Heat.
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
— Minnesota at New Orleans, Wednesday. The Pelicans beat Oklahoma City and San Antonio last week, and now have a chance to show they are rounding into form by beating another quality opponent.
— Minnesota at Oklahoma City, Friday. The Thunder struggle mightily in close games, and the Timberwolves have already beaten them by two and three points this season.
— Phoenix at Boston, Saturday. Devin Booker became the sixth NBA player with a 70-point game in his last visit to Boston.
— Detroit at Philadelphia, Saturday. Joel Embiid scored 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting in his first matchup against Andre Drummond this season, and after the game told The Philadelphia Enquirer that his counterpart “doesn’t play any defense.”
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Andre Drummond: 26 points, 22 rebounds, six assists, four steals, in a victory at Boston on Monday. According to NBA.com, he was the first player with that many points, rebounds, assists and steals since Charles Barkley on Jan. 20, 1990.
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