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NBA: Harden, Westbrook to skip Rio

NEW YORK (AFP) – Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden confirmed Friday they have joined the growing list of NBA stars who are backing out on playing for the US team at the Rio Olympics.

Harden, this season’s number two NBA scorer with 29.0 points a game, and Westbrook, who shared eighth with a 23.5-point average, both said in statements they made the decision after speaking with family members.

Neither specifically mentioned the Zika virus that has prompted health concerns for potential competitors and visitors alike, but both said it was hard to turn their backs on a US squad seeking a third consecutive gold medal and they hoped for another chance to represent their country.

“As a result of many difficult conversations with my family, the Rockets, and trusted advisors, I’ve notified (USA Basketball director) Jerry Colangelo and Team USA that I will not be competing at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Brazil,’’ Harden said.

Harden, who ranked sixth in the NBA this season with 7.5 assists a game and 16th in steals with 1.7 a game, played for the 2012 London Olympic championship squad and captained the 2014 Basketball World Cup championship team that clinched the Americans a berth in Brazil in August.