Phoenix 96, Dallas 94: Suns come back from double-digit defict to take down Mavericks

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A few weeks ago, any talk involving the Phoenix Suns and the word “playoffs” would have seemed completely ridiculous — and maybe, to a certain extent, it still is. But the Suns have shown they possess the necessary grit and fight that is evident in postseason teams, battling back from double-digit deficits in their last four home victories, most recently in a crucial 96-94 win over the Mavericks on Thursday.

It was maybe the Suns’ best victory of the season.

After leading for three quarters the night before in Oklahoma City against a Thunder team which possesses the league’s best record, Phoenix fell apart in the fourth, and lost a game the players felt they had played well enough to win. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said before Thursday’s game against Dallas that he wanted to be careful not to get into moral victory territory in discussing the positives against OKC.

The victory was real on this night, and was one that was earned over the defending champs.

“As a team we sort of collectively came out and willed a victory,” Grant Hill said afterward. “We probably should have won the game last night (against the Thunder), we played well and just didn’t do good job there in the fourth quarter of maintaining the lead.

“I think it showed a lot tonight that we didn’t quit, we didn’t fold, and we managed to figure out a way to get the win.”

Phoenix trailed early, thanks to Vince Carter torching his former team for 13 first-half points, which led all scorers at the break and helped get the Mavs out to a nine-point lead at intermission. Hill, who always guards the other team’s best player and held Dirk Nowitzki to just six points through two quarters, was assigned to Carter to start the second half.

Hill’s defense slowed Carter considerably in the second half, but more importantly, the Suns to a man played as hard as they have all season during a stretch that ran from late in the third quarter through more than halfway into the fourth, where Phoenix put together a monstrous 30-8 run that turned an 11-point deficit into a lead of the same margin with just over five minutes to play.

There were defensive stops that lead to transition baskets, open pull-up jumpers, or wide-open threes. There was Jared Dudley’s 12-point third quarter. There was Shannon Brown’s monster putback slam dunk that blew the roof off of the US Airways Center,  and pushed the Suns lead to double digits four and a half minutes into the fourth.

There was Hakim Warrick’s inspired play off the bench, bringing energy, athleticism, and easy points at the free throw line to a second unit that has struggled to keep things stable all season long. Warrick has only gotten his chances in spurts, and hasn’t played the 17 minutes he did against Dallas in a game since the end of January, while receiving 13 DNP-CDs since.

But it wasn’t by any means a cruise to the finish line for Phoenix. Dallas is a deep and experienced team, and was able to close the gap to just two, while gaining possession with 14 seconds left after fouling Hill, who missed two free throws. After getting the ball to Nowitzki initially, the Suns had a foul to give and used it. When the Mavs inbounded the ball next, Rodrigue Beaubois was the one who got the clutch shot opportunities, first missing a floater at the rim that went in and out, then missing an 18-foot jumper with just a couple of seconds remaining that left the victory in the hands of the Suns.

Rick Carlisle was questioned as to why Beaubois was even in the game, when normally Jason Terry would be the one on the floor ready to produce should the ball not find its way into the hands of Nowitzki.

“Coach’s decision,” Carlisle said, repeating it twice more when pressed for details.

“You’re not always going to get your star players a shot at the end because they attract so much attention,” Carlisle said. “And that’s one of the reasons Roddy got so open.”

Most teams will happily take their chances with Beaubois at the end of games, given the number of capable alternatives on the Mavs’ roster. But the game wasn’t won or lost on the final possession. The Suns won it with their desire, and maybe, with their sense of urgency. Steve Nash said afterward that the team placed a significant amount of emphasis on winning this game, specifically due to the fact that Phoenix is running out of opportunities to make up the ground that it needs to in the conference standings.

“We couldn’t lose both these and stay in the playoff picture,” Nash said, referring to the game on Wednesday in Oklahoma City that was already lost. “It’s an early crunch time for us. We’ve got to keep crawling back to that eight, nine, ten spot and try to give ourselves a chance to sneak in there.”

Phoenix has won six of its last eight, with four of those wins coming against teams that the Suns are chasing in the standings. The next three are at home as well, and are also against playoff hopefuls or contenders.

The Suns aren’t ready to talk playoffs just yet. But they are playing with a desperation that seems to be working, and are going out there each night like their season is on the line. With this critical stretch of home games ahead against teams they need to outrun in the race to the postseason, it probably is.

Chris Paul scores 33, Rockets topple Warriors 116-108

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden felt closer to normal after struggling in his first game back from a hamstring injury, and the Houston Rockets got a big game from Chris Paul to down the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Paul scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, Harden bested Stephen Curry twice in the final seconds and the Rockets held off the Warriors 116-108 to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

The victory gives Houston a 2-1 series advantage over Golden State after the reigning NBA champions had won the series the previous three seasons.

“Obviously they’re a championship caliber team for the past four years … and that’s what we’re trying to build our way up to,” Harden said.

Harden stepped back from Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left, then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout.

Harden finished with 22 points. Paul added two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

“It’s been a good streak, disappointing end to it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We played pretty poorly, did a lot of things to hurt ourselves and we’re playing a great team. Can’t get away with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni raved about the performance of the 32-year-old Paul .

“The guy is a winner, he’s been a winner, he’s going to win,” D’Antoni said.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts and 6 of 20 overall. It was just the sixth time in his career that he’d attempted 20 or more shots while making six or fewer.

“It was just one of those nights where I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor,” he said. “So I’ve got to take that responsibility for that one. It was pretty bad.”

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half.

It was Harden’s second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday.

The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points.

Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left.

 

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safety

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?