James Harden scores a career-high for the second time this season against the Suns

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Before the Suns faced the Thunder on Wednesday, Alvin Gentry had some high praise for Oklahoma City’s James Harden.

Phoenix’s head coach said that he and his staff were talking about Harden in preparing for this matchup, and once they got past Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, they were hard-pressed to name a two-guard in the entire league who has played as well as Harden has this season.

Maybe it was a premonition, or maybe it was simply observation, based on the way Harden torched the Suns for what was, at the time, a career-high of 30 points. But Harden once again had a career night against the Suns, this time pouring in 40 points in the Thunder’s 109-97 win in Phoenix — one that kept OKC just a half-game from the top spot in the Western Conference standings, and one that, for now, has Phoenix on the outside of the playoff picture entirely.

Harden’s night was as efficient as it was effective. His 40 points came on just 17 shots, and they actually came on 12-of-15 shooting before he missed his final two attempts with the game having already been decided. Harden added seven rebounds, three assists, and four steals, and impacted the game every moment he was on the floor.

Things started slowly for the Thunder before Harden sprang into action. The Suns came out aggressive, and ran out to a 21-8 lead in the game’s first six-and-a-half minutes. Steve Nash had three quick assists during that span, and Phoenix was hitting open shots that were loosely contested, at best.

Then, the Thunder brought the intensity. Or more to the point, they brought Harden.

The bearded one checked in with five minutes left in the first, and sparked a monster 18-4 run to end the period, scoring 10 points during that span to put his team up four after they had trailed by as many as 13.

Harden continued to score from inside and out, but the Thunder weren’t able to pull away until late. The game had a playoff-style pace to it, but it never felt like one the Suns would be able to win. That’s because the Phoenix offense, which had been so prolific in recent weeks, especially at home, was unable to find a rhythm for much of the night.

Nash is usually unstoppable no matter what the defense throws at him, but the Thunder were able to contain him with excellent pick-and-roll defense. After those three early assists, Nash, who leads the league in that category, tallied just two more for the rest of the game, finishing with just five — to go along with five turnovers.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks attempted to explain how his team was able to shut Nash down.

“We wanted to be able to jump the ball and really have him see a crowd and see four hands,” he said. “And our bigs and our guards did a good job of doing that and not allowing those easy passes. You can do that, and the next game he could have 12 assists and 15 points, that’s how good he is. But we did a good job on it. Our rotations were on point; we rotated quickly and got out to the shooters, also.”

It didn’t help that Nash’s main pick-and-roll partner, Marcin Gortat, struggled to find the basket, and finished just 2-of-13 from the field. He was clearly bothered by the length of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka inside, but he also missed some close shots that he usually gets to go down.

The Suns didn’t let this one get away without showing some visible signs of frustration — Steve Nash and Alvin Gentry picked up consecutive technical fouls late in the third while the game was still in reach, and Sebastian Telfair was playing a little extra-physical with Harden in the fourth, and let his words get away from him enough to pick up a technical, as well.

The loss temporarily dropped Phoenix to ninth in the standings, a half-game behind Utah and two games behind Denver, both of whom they’ll get a chance to play head-to-head before the season is through.

Thankfully for the Suns, they won’t have to face Harden anymore in the regular season. Two games, two career-highs in points for Oklahoma City’s Sixth Man of the Year candidate off the bench.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” he said. “It’s not particularly the Suns, I just had two good games. Especially coming off that bad second half (in Monday’s loss to the Clippers), we wanted to bounce back, and I just tried to spark some energy off the bench.”

AP source: Bulls agree to 2-year deal with Mirotic

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CHICAGO (AP) A person with knowledge of the situation says the Chicago Bulls and forward Nikola Mirotic have agreed to a two-year contract that could pay as much as $27 million.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Sunday because the deal has not been announced. The Bulls hold an option on the second year.

The 6-foot-10 Mirotic averaged 10.6 points last season. He has scored 10.8 per game over three seasons.

The Bulls are rebuilding after winning 41 games and losing in the first round of the playoffs. They traded All-Star guard Jimmy Butler to Minnesota on draft night for three players 23 and younger – Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen.

Yahoo Sports first reported the agreement.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Sparks, Lynx take part in pregame demonstrations prior to WNBA Finals

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The WNBA has been no stranger to demonstrations of social conscience in recent years. On Sunday, things were no different.

Before the Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals, both the LA Sparks and Minnesota Lynx participated in their own pregame demonstrations.

The Sparks, similar to many NFL teams on on Sunday, stayed inside the locker room during the national anthem. The Lynx decided to take the court, but linked arms in their own show of solidarity.

This came in response to Trump’s recent comments about Colin Kaepernick. The former “Trump Steaks” founder called anybody who “disrespects our flag” a “son of a bitch”.

That prompted many NFL team mates to join together in their own demonstrations, either kneeling for the national anthem or staying inside their locker rooms.

Trump also decided to disinvite the Golden State Warriors after star Stephen Curry said that he would vote know heading into a team meeting to discuss whether they should visit the White House as the reigning NBA champions.

That prompted response from several players around the NBA and in Golden State, as well asWarriors coach Steve Kerr, who asked for Trump to remember that he represents the entire nation and not just his constituency.

Meanwhile, Game 1 of the Finals was pretty incredible with the Sparks winning thanks to a Chelsea Gray jumper with two seconds left to make it 85-84. LA leads Minnesota in the series 1-0.

Report: Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade reach agreement on buyout

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Well it finally happened.

According to Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade and have reach an agreement on a buyout.

This has been coming for some time, as it does not make sense to have Wade in the fold for a young Bulls team moving forward. Both sides seem to have been at a stalemate for some time as Wade’s salary is $23.8 million for the upcoming season.

Wade will now be free to move to another team, and many people think that he will be headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers to join his pal LeBron James.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers are over the cap, so the only deal Wade would be able to sign at the moment would be for the veteran minimum.

The full banana boat crew of Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron, and Wade were not been able to get on a single team this offseason, so Cleveland does seem to be the most likely option.

What Wade can bring to the Cavaliers is another question. Cleveland has relied heavily on Richard Jefferson over the past two years, so it’s not out of the ordinary for them to use a veteran often. Wade has certainly declined in recent seasons but his per-100 possession statistics show he could still be useful for a championship-level team needing a bench ball handler and scorer.

Whether he would accept that role is another thing altogether, and if role is important to Wade moving forward he could end up in a different place than with James in Cleveland.

San Antonio is another interesting place for him to land, although so to is back home in Miami. We still have yet to see where Wade will sign, but this is just yet another item to declare this NBA offseason the greatest of all-time.

Report: Knicks wanted Cavs’ Tristan Thompson in potential Carmelo Anthony trade

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Carmelo Anthony is now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but save for a refusal from the Cleveland Cavaliers he could have been playing with LeBron James this season.

According to Cleveland.com, the New York Knicks apparently tried to complete a trade with the Cavaliers before settling with the Thunder.

The centerpiece of the potential trade with Cleveland would have been power forward Tristan Thompson, a favorite of LeBron. The Cavaliers apparently decided against making that trade, which is how we wound up with Anthony heading to play with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

Via Cleveland.com:

The Knicks wanted Thompson, 26, a center who like James is represented by Rich Paul. The Cavs told them no. Thompson is under contract for three more seasons, beginning at $16.4 million this year. Cleveland was willing to do a deal that would’ve cleared some contracts off the books, such as sending Iman Shumpert ($11 million this year) and others.

New York also asked about one of Cleveland’s two first-round choices for 2018, and the Cavs weren’t about to part with either.

The Cavs view the Brooklyn pick they own for 2018 as invaluable for multiple reasons. Trading the Knicks their own first-round pick would prevent them from being able to move the Brooklyn pick later this season.

Obviously an important backstory here is how much LeBron likes Thompson, and that they share the same agent. Thompson remains a somewhat underrated part of the Cavaliers overall success during the regular season.

Thompson played much of the year at center for the Cavaliers last year, apparently making it his permanent position. Cleveland’s roster without Thompson but with both Kevin Love and Carmelo would have been an odd mix, forcing Love to likely be the person to play the 5.

It makes sense that the Knicks would want to Thompson, and it also makes sense that the Cavaliers refused.