James Harden and the Houston Rockets take on the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. Photo by Rolex dela Pena/EPA
You probably could have gotten pretty good odds at the start of the NBA season if you had bet that both San Antonio and Houston, two of the league's powerhouse teams, would be under. 500 a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 campaign.
The surprisingly disappointing start will be one of the storylines when the Rockets (9-11) head to the Alamo City to battle the Spurs (10-11) on Friday at the AT&T Center.
Houston comes into the latest Lone Star State showdown on the heels of a 128-108 home loss to Dallas on Wednesday. The Rockets played that game without star guard Chris Paul, who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury, and key reserve wing Gerald Green, who has an ankle injury. It was Houston's fourth loss in a row.
James Harden had 25 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds and six steals for Houston in the loss. His assists matched his career high.
He became the first NBA player with at least 25 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and five steals in a game since Paul did it in 2009.
Harden scored 54 points with 13 assists on Monday in a loss to Detroit, giving him consecutive games with at least 40 points and double-digit assists. Harden had scored 40 points with 13 assists in the 117-108 loss to Cleveland in the previous game.
Harden said the Rockets will get back on track soon.
"We've done it already," Harden said. "We went through a tough stretch, and then we regrouped and won five in a row -- and we looked really good. We've just got to figure it out. We've got a lot of new guys, and it's only 20 games into the season."
Both Paul and Green are expected to play on Friday.
The Spurs return home after a 128-89 loss in Minnesota on Wednesday that forced them to be satisfied with a 2-2 split on a four-game road trip to Indiana, Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities.
San Antonio faded in a dismal second quarter in which it missed eight of its first nine shots and was outscored 29-9. The Timberwolves kept the pedal to the metal in the third quarter, taking a 91-58 lead, and cruised to the win with both teams' starters on the bench for the final period.
San Antonio was led by Jakob Poeltl's 14 points off the bench in the loss, while Quincy Pondexter added 13 points, Marco Belinelli racked up 11, and LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan scored 10 points each for the Spurs.
The Spurs continue to struggle. They are 4-9 in their past 13 games and are below .500 for the third time this season. It's the first time San Antonio is below the break-even mark through 21 games since the 2003-04 campaign.
The Spurs are without consecutive victories since winning four straight games from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3.
It's been a tough season for San Antonio, which traded away Kawhi Leonard in the spring, saw veteran point guard Tony Parker sign as a free agent in Charlotte, and then suffered the retirement of heart-and-soul guard Manu Ginobili.
Then, in the preseason, presumptive starting point guard Dejounte Murray was lost for the season to a knee injury, basically forcing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to start over with his team.
"This is basically a new basketball team with a lot of guys who had never played together," Popovich said. "It was more about not skipping steps and kind of going back to the beginning where in the past there was so much corporate knowledge, you'd start the season running, everybody knowing their roles and their jobs.
"With this group, we had to begin with a lot more fundamental work, and the basics of what the system is, and then give them time to work together and learn about each other."
So far, the Spurs have been inconsistent, at best.