Rockets off and running without Yao

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Here’s the little thing everyone has missed while talking about Yao Ming for the past couple years — without him the Rockets are one of the league’s more entertaining teams.

In the last two seasons — save for the handful of games Yao played — the Rockets have become a running team. Right now they play at the sixth fastest pace in the league and that has been without Aaron Brooks — the speedy point guard made for a running offense — who has been out with a severely sprained ankle.

The Rockets are a pretty good offensive team — they are currently eighth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). Their defense is not so good (21st) but that just leads to more watchable, high scoring games. Luis Scola and Kevin Martin can fill it up on any given night, and Shane Battier is underrated on offense.

Make no mistake this is not a good team — they are 11-15 now but as John Hollinger points out have had to do it against a pretty tough schedule. They will probably finish around .500 and flirt with the eighth seed in the West.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey has some big picture decisions to make — with Yao essentially done as a Rocket and a guy you build around, the long-term direction of the team is in question. Build through the draft and with young players essentially blowing this team up, or get a star that can lead this quality group of role players. A long-term direction needs to be chosen.

But for now, the Rockets remain a decent and entertaining team to watch. Which is a step ahead of half of the league.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.

Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Celtics didn’t have another comeback in them.

After overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Mavericks on Monday to extend its winning streak to 16 games, Boston lost to the Heat tonight, 104-98. The streak ends as the NBA’s longest since the Hawks won 19 straight during the 2014-15 season.

The Celtics trailed Miami by 16 in the fourth quarter then cut the deficit to only one with three minutes left. But Dion Waiters hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping the Heat pull away.

Goran Dragic (27 points) and Waiters (26 points) led Miami, which needed a reason to feel good after losing three of four to fall to 7-9.

The Celtics, on the other hand, still have a four-game cushion over the rest of the Eastern Conference. This might help them regain focus.

Serge Ibaka gets dunked on by Enes Kanter, hit in face by ball (video)

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Is Enes Kanter mad Serge Ibaka rifted with his family?

(No, not this family. That family.)