James Harden, Chris Paul build huge Rockets lead to hold off Spurs

HOUSTON -- Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets seem right now to be as bad as they wanna be, to borrow a phrase from the NBA great that the perennial All-Star point guard joined in an exclusive club on Friday.

Paul still hasn't lost a game that he has played for the Rockets, who extended their winning streak to 12 games with a 124-109 rout of the San Antonio Spurs. Paul, who missed a month early in the season due to a knee injury, is 13-0 with the Rockets.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player in NBA history to start and win his first 13 games with a new team was Dennis Rodman, who did so with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

"Cool," Paul said after a spectacular performance against the Spurs, as he led the Rockets with 28 points, eight assists and seven steals. "Dennis Rodman got more championships than me. We'll see if I can catch him or not."

Rodman's five rings would be setting the bar awfully high for Paul, a 32-year-old whose only flaw on his Basketball Hall of Fame résumé is the fact that he has yet to advance even as far as the conference finals. But there is no doubt that the Rockets, who have the NBA's best record at 23-4 and have won by a double-digit margin 10 times during their streak, have the look of a legitimate title contender.

And Paul, in particular, appears to be getting better and better the more playing time he gets with his new teammates.

Paul, the nine-time All-Star who pushed for an offseason trade from the LA Clippers, is in the midst of a sizzling scoring streak. He has scored at least 20 points in five of the past six games and is averaging 24.6 points during that span, shooting 53.8 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point range.

For the season, Paul is averaging 17.1 points, 9.5 assists and 2.5 steals. He would rank second in the league in assists and first in steals if he had played enough games to qualify. It's the kind of production and impact the Rockets anticipated Paul would make as early MVP front-runner James Harden's backcourt partner.

"That's what we want him to do," Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said of Paul. "That's what we need him to do. We need him to play his game. He's one of the best point guards to play. We feed off what he does, we feed off what James does, and together it's been great."

Paul, who arrived in Houston with a reputation as arguably the NBA's premier midrange threat, has been especially aggressive and efficient as a long-range shooter. He has helped the Rockets be on pace to shatter the NBA records they set last season for 3-pointers made and attempted. Paul is averaging a career-high 5.8 3-point attempts per game and shooting at a career-best clip of 43.4 percent from long range.

"It's basketball, man," Paul said. "I know it sounds so simple, but ball screen, read it and the court is just so open. You know what I mean? You get a chance to make plays, shoot, do whatever."

Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard, playing only his second game of the season after being sidelined by right quadriceps tendinopathy, did not play in the second half against the Rockets due to a minutes restriction. He scored 12 points in 17 minutes, but the Spurs trailed by 17 points at halftime, in large part due to Paul's dominance (13 points, six assists, four steals, plus-19).

The Rockets were plus-29 in the 32 minutes that their newcomer point guard played, in what turned out to be a classic all-around performance by Paul. According to basketball-reference, there have been 10 outings over the past decade in which a player recorded at least 28 points, eight assists and seven steals. Six of them belong to Paul.

"Can't say he's going to get in the Hall of Fame just because he's pretty," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's going there for a reason."

Paul left the Clippers to join the Rockets for a reason too: To finally put a championship ring on his finger.

Paul, who points out that the Clippers once had a 17-game winning streak and flamed out in the playoffs in 2013, is too focused on the big picture to get giddy about the Rockets' remarkable run.

"We can obviously get better," said Paul, who was 10-of-18 from the floor and 5-of-9 from 3-point range on a rare off night of shooting from Harden, who also scored 28 points but was only 6-of-18 from the floor. "The scary part is when you feel like you've arrived, when you think that you can't get better. We can get better offensively and defensively, but right now, it's just about piling up wins."