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Three weeks after James Harden and Chris Paul debuted as teammates at the Drew League in Los Angeles, the new Houston Rockets backcourt again showed glimpses of their chemistry to come.
Competing alongside Rockets teammates Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela and opposite a host of NBA stars — namely John Wall and DeMar DeRozan — at Harden’s inaugural JH Town Weekend charity basketball game to benefit the Lucky 13 scholarship and internship program, Houston’s All-Star backcourt tandem produced an array of highlights, including this alley-oop from Harden to Paul:
That jumping butt-bump timing is in midseason form.
Ballislife.com has a complete video breakdown of the exhibition game, but the alley-oop was notable, if only because Paul has averaged roughly one dunk per NBA season over the past four years. His two-handed jam showed bounce we rarely still see from the 32-year-old, nine-time All-Star.
Maybe Harden’s recent reveal to USA Today that he’s been working hard between charity events at “getting better and putting yourself in a position to last an entire season” has given Paul a jolt, too. Harden infamously ran out of steam this past May during Houston’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, so he’s reportedly altered his diet and added yoga to his training.
Harden certainly indicated to USA Today’s Sam Amick that Paul’s arrival has given him a boost:
“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of recruiting Paul. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.
“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”
Paul didn’t seem super happy when he was giving Harden grief at the Drew League a few weeks ago …
… But maybe that was a temporary bout with competitive fire. This weekend’s game featured a few more smiles, especially when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner dubbed Sunday “James Harden Day.”
The question remains whether the two All-Star guards can coexist for a season, and the mayor’s announcement made it clear Houston is still Harden’s city. Harden recently signed the largest contract extension in NBA history, a deal that will keep him under the Rockets’ control through 2022-23, while Paul is scheduled to become a free agent next summer. How they succeed together this season could dictate whether they will still be teammates for the second annual JH Town Weekend next August.
So, the exhibition appearances this month are merely an appetizer for what’s to come, leaving fans hungry for the start of training camp, when the intensity level will be turned up a thousandfold. In the meantime, this Paul-to-Harden-to-Capela play will have to satiate them for a few more weeks:
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