Houston, Daryl Morey got a star in Harden. It’s a start.

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For the past year or more, Daryl Morey has been on a quest to get the Rockets an elite player to build around. He went hard after Dwight Howard even with Howard’s people saying he wouldn’t re-sign there. He knows you need an elite player to win in this league.

He’s now got James Harden. The Rockets made a huge move to get the All-Star and Sixth Man of the Year from Oklahoma City. You can bet a max contract extension offer of five years is coming. Of course, the question is will Harden sign it (most guys do their first contract after their rookie deal).

Is Harden the guy the Rockets can build around?

Morey told CSNHouston.com it is.

“We think James is a guy we can build our team around,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on Comcast SportsNet Saturday night. …

“Yeah, we’re very excited,” Morey said. “He’s an All-Star caliber player we’ve been looking to add to the team. Obviously, on the recent Dream Team, youngest player on that team.

“We’re excited. This is an elite offensive player who is solid in all other areas of the game as well.”

For Houston, this is a first big step. They are on the road to relevancy. But this move alone does not have them in the playoffs this year in the West, they still have a long way to go. A lot of pieces to fit in. And that starts with the two stars they already have.

Harden and also acquired Jeremy Lin are both guys who thrive running the pick and roll, so expect to see a lot of that in Houston. That and the team running and getting in the open floor. Because of that Morey thinks his two stars will mesh well.

“They complement each other very well,” Morey said on Comcast SportsNet Houston. “You know, James is a guy who is an elite shooter. Jeremy can break people down, find shooters. James is also great in the pick-and-roll. Both are good in transition, which is how we want to play this year.”

I’m not as sold, at least not yet anyway. I’m not sold on them as a defensive unit in the back court. On the other end of the floor, I think there at the least will be an adjustment period for the two to get used to each other.

My other question is who will be the good pick-and-roll big man for Houston, or more likely do they still need to go get one. Omer Asik was pretty average in limited time in that role in Chicago (just 28 times he got a shot as the roll man and he shot 50 percent according to Synergy). Can just acquired Cole Aldrich be that guy? What about European rookie Donatas Motiejunas?

Morey has to put a lot of pieces still together for the Rockets. They are not in the playoffs.

But to win in the NBA you need stars, you need talent. The Rockets just acquired a lot of talent in the form of Harden. It’s a start.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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