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Friends and rivals: Iguodala, Harden set to battle in Houston

Team USA teammates are key matchup as Nuggets face Rockets

Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala drives past Rockets guard James Harden during Denver's victory on Nov. 7.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

Though they attended rival colleges, Andre Iguodala and James Harden have grown to become close friends.

Iguodala, who attended Arizona, and Harden, who went to Arizona State, share the same Los Angeles-based agent and they helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

In the offseason, they also switched NBA teams via trades, with Iguodala moving from Philadelphia to Denver and Harden going from Oklahoma City to Houston. The Nuggets acquired Iguodala, in part, as a defensive stopper, while the Rockets added Harden as an offensive centerpiece.

The two friends will meet for the second time this season when the Nuggets face the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday.

“I take every assignment pretty much the same,” Iguodala said after practice Tuesday. “I watch a little bit of film and see what I can learn as far as tendencies. I’ll just try to get him out of rhythm. I’ve gotten really close to James, so it’s fun going against him.”

After winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award with Oklahoma City last season, Harden has elevated his game as Houston’s primary scorer. He is averaging 25.9 points and enjoyed a stretch of 14 consecutive 25-point games from Dec. 16-Jan. 15.

“He’s putting up big numbers,” Iguodala said. “He’s not necessarily scoring on one individual guy. They do a good job of putting him in a good position with pick-and-rolls. He’s going 1-on-1 at bigs. It’s key for us to jump him early and not let him attack.”

The Nuggets (25-18) contained Harden during a 93-87 victory in Houston on Nov. 7, limiting him to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He struggled with his shot again Monday against the Charlotte Bobcats (5-for-20) but scored 29 points by converting 19 of 21 free throws.

“When we played against him, we did a very good job,” Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari said. “Andre Iguodala did a very good job playing 1-on-1 defense against him. We have to do the same job (Wednesday).”

Nuggets coach George Karl said Iguodala and reserve forward Corey Brewer will likely be the primary defenders against Harden, but that could change depending on the flow of the game.

“Harden’s a pretty tough guy,” Karl said. “He has a great way of drawing fouls. We’ll put anybody on him who I think can make a difference.”

Wilson Chandler gives the Nuggets another option. Despite missing 32 of Denver’s first 36 games while recovering from a hip injury, he remains one of Denver’s best pick-and-roll defenders.

“Defensively, he has more of a veteran brain than a young brain,” Karl said. “He’s been in the league long enough that he knows situations probably better than some of our younger players. Defensively he can cover 1, 2, 3s and 4s and probably some 5s. He gives us a lot of versatility at the end of games.”

Chandler has played a key role in each of Denver’s past two victories, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds left against Portland and converting two clutch free throws with 4.5 seconds remaining against Oklahoma City.

“Wilson has an 80s style of game; he plays like a grown man,” Iguodala said. “You see a lot of finesse players in our league who have a lot of success. He’s more (of a) brute. He’s a smart player, knows his game and won’t go outside of his limitations, which I like about him. You know what you’re going to get night in and night out.”

In Houston, the Nuggets will be looking to validate Sunday’s victory over Oklahoma City, the league’s top team.

“We still have a ways to go,” Iguodala said. “If we continue to build as a team, we’re going to be really good. We’re going to be scary. We’ve known that from the beginning. But it takes time to get to know one another. We’re heading in the right direction.”


NUGGETS AT ROCKETS


WHEN:
6 p.m. MT
WHERE: Toyota Center, Houston
TV; RADIO: Altitude; 104.3 FM, AM-950

PROBABLE STARTERS
DENVER

F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Ty Lawson

HOUSTON
F Chandler Parsons
F Patrick Patterson
C Omer Asik
G James Harden
G Jeremy Lin

INJURY & ROSTER REPORT
DENVER:
No injuries to report.
HOUSTON:Royce White (suspended).

SERIES NOTES

The Nuggets won the first meeting 93-87 in Houston ... Denver has gone just 8-14 in the last 22 road games against the Rockets since the 2001-02 season, but have won three straight in Houston … The Rockets have played well in Denver in recent years, having gone 8-9 at the Pepsi Center since the 2002-03 season … The Nuggets have struggled overall against the Rockets for the past two decades, having gone 33-57 (.367) vs. Houston since 1990-91 … Denver has played more overtime games against Houston than any other franchise in the NBA (12) … The Nuggets won the season series 3-1 in 2011-12, just the second season series win against Houston since 2000-01 (3-1) and only the third since 1993-94 (3-2) … The Rockets and Nuggets have split the season series six times in the last 13 years.