Paul and Harden hope bond translates to success on court
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) Chris Paul and James Harden have spent so much time together since he was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets in June that he's learned the most important facts - and some that aren't as vital - about his fellow All-Star teammate.
"He likes french fries just as much as I do, first and foremost," Paul said with a laugh.
Then he got serious about why he's so excited to join Harden and a Houston team that lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals last season.
"He loves to hoop," Paul said. "You got some guys that like and enjoy to play basketball, and he's one of the guys who loves it."
After spending countless hours together on and off the court in the last few weeks, Paul and Harden can't wait to see how their pairing will work as the Rockets open camp on Tuesday.
"We did a lot of traveling, playing pickup games here and there and stuff like that, so you are antsy to actually get out there with the full crew and see what it looks like," Paul said.
Harden, who finished second to Russell Westbrook in MVP voting last season, is thrilled about the opportunity to pair with such a dynamic player. He believes Paul's skillset will make things easier for him.
"It's a relief," he said. "But it's not just anybody that I'm getting off the ball giving it to. I'm giving the ball to somebody that can do the same thing I can do even better."
Paul is a nine-time All-Star who has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals over his 12-year career, though he has been dogged with criticism in recent years for failing to help the Clippers get out of the second round of the playoffs. Los Angeles reached the postseason in each of Paul's six seasons with the team, but the Clippers were eliminated in the first round three times and in the Western Conference semifinals three other times.
He readily admits that his only motivation for opting in for the last year of his contract so the Clippers could deal him was to chase a title.
"I came here with one purpose, one goal in mind and that's to win a championship," he said. "And the cool part is being here with a guy like James that has those same aspirations."
Since the trade, some have questioned how the two point guards will coexist in Houston. General manager Daryl Morey has no worries about that and said he doesn't have to see the pair in a game to know that he's right.
"They've been playing in gyms around the country and out of the country all summer," he said. "Just from my watching it and coach (Mike D'Antoni) has watched it even more than me - we're 100 percent certain it's going to work."
D'Antoni, who enters his second season in Houston, said the three have had plenty of conversations about how they'll play together and what it will look like. He knows there will be growing pains along the way, but he believes the fact that both players want it to work will go a long way.
"We have little things to work out but, again, both of them are very willing to do whatever it takes to be the best that we can be," D'Antoni said. "Now we've just got to figure out what that is and keep improving on it all year."
Harden ranked second in the league with 29.1 points per game and first with 11.2 assists. He had 64 double-doubles last year after combining for just 67 in the first seven seasons of his career, and he notched 22 triple-doubles after getting just nine total before last season.
His brilliant season was marred by a poor performance in Game 6 of the conference semifinals when the Rockets were eliminated with a 39-point loss to the Spurs. Harden didn't attempt a shot until halfway through the second quarter of the blowout and finished with 10 points to tie a season low.
He denies that he paid any attention to the criticism he received after that loss, asking, "What did they say?" about the naysayers.
But he doesn't deny that he should have done more in that game and vows to do just that this season.
"Obviously I played terrible," he said. "It didn't end in a championship so that's frustrating. (I've) just got to get better. Won't blame anybody but myself."
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Updated September 25, 2017