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NBA trending: What will Chris Paul’s return mean for James Harden and the Rockets?

James Harden, Alec Burks
In the absence of Chris Paul, James Harden has been carrying the load for Houston.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

What’s happening in the NBA? Check out these trending items early in the season.

OK without CP3 for now

No month suits “The Beard” better than no-shave November.

James Harden has put up hair-raising performances, from Sunday’s 56-point outing against Utah to tormenting Cleveland on Thursday with the first game of at least 30 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds and five steals since Michael Jordan did it in 1988.

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Harden’s play has placed Houston atop the Western Conference while Chris Paul makes his way back from a knee injury.. Harden’s play and Eric Gordon’s expanded role have been good for the standings, but how Paul and Harden mesh is what could be good for the Rockets’ postseason.

Paul’s return, possibly next week, will be more like his debut; he’s been sidelined since the season opener as a a result of banging his left knee in an Oct. 11 preseason game. Paul will move Harden off the ball more but potentially help Houston defensively while increasing tempo by spreading the burden of a thinned-out backcourt.

Center Clint Capela has given the Rockets another boost and become more of a rim protector while offering efficient offensive finishes and averaging nearly 11 rebounds in only 25 minutes per game.

Quiet Thunder

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Cleveland can at least brush off some of its struggles by chalking them up to not having Isaiah Thomas yet.

What is Oklahoma City’s excuse?

The Thunder became a must-watch last season for Russell Westbrook’s exploits, but having All-Star help in Carmelo Anthony and Paul George has made Oklahoma City less watchable.

Westbrook is going through a dramatic change from an NBA-record usage rate last season to his return to being an ensemble player this season.

The Thunder has been mostly dominated in Western Conference play, winning for just the first time in seven tries Friday against the Clippers, but the issue in most of those losses has been crunch-time performance. One trend still follows: When Westbrook does not shoot well, Oklahoma City probably is not winning.

“Russell Westbrook should not be deferring to those guys,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said on “Inside the NBA” this week. “The best player doesn’t take a back seat to those guys.”

Butler did it

Minnesota guard Jimmy Butler is having his lowest-scoring season in four years and could not be happier.

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He is back with a winner, helping to turn around the Timberwolves, who aside from losing the two games he missed with an upper respiratory infection are a much-improved squad with a new backcourt of Butler and Jeff Teague to complement Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Butler is relishing his exit from Chicago, where he said he and coach Fred Hoiberg “didn’t agree on many things,” according to USA Today. He is reunited with his original Bulls coach, Tom Thibodeau, in Minnesota.

“I love playing for Thibs, man,” Butler told USA Today. “He’s always working, always studying the game. You always see him in the gym, in his office. You’re going to ride for guys that do that, because you know at the end of the day they’re going to work just as hard as you are.”

Slow your roll

Last year, Detroit center Andre Drummond’s free throw shooting had deteriorated to the point that an underhand form was being considered.

Drummond entered this season as a career 38.1% free throw shooter who was targeted for “Hack-an-Andre” strategy when he was not benched for the stretch run of tight games.

An offseason of dedication to losing 30 pounds and revamping his form for a deeper breath and deeper knee bend seem to be working, as he’s up to 63.8% this season and made 14 of 16 free throws Nov. 3 against Milwaukee. Then, he missed all seven free throw attempts Wednesday against Indiana.

All-Star set through 2020

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The site of the NBA All-Star Game is now known through 2020, when Chicago will host the midseason event at United Center after Los Angeles plays host this season and Charlotte puts on the game in 2019.

This season’s All-Star Game will mark the first year of a new format in which the leading two vote-getters on fan ballots will select the teams, regardless of conference affiliations.

After fans, media and players pick the game’s starters, coaches will pick the reserves. That pool of 22 players will be drafted by the captains.

Based on last year’s voting, LeBron James and Stephen Curry would be the captains, which could mean Curry lines up Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on his first picks.


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