Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets

James Harden says playing Thunder will be ‘just another game’


The Rockets will play the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, which will mark the first time that James Harden will lace ’em up against the team he couldn’t come to terms with on a contract extension shortly before the start of the season.

As a result, OKC traded Harden to Houston, where he’s been mostly spectacular as the team’s number one offensive option, averaging just over 25 points per game on the season.

The Thunder had something special going with the young core of Harden, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook making their first trip to the Finals last season, but the organization decided to change that in favor of future financial flexibility.

There apparently are no hard feelings on Harden’s part, however, who says he’ll approach this game just like any other.

From Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“I’m on the road trying to get a win,” Harden said Tuesday. “That’s no different than when we played at Memphis or Atlanta or whatever the case may be.”

He said he never expected to leave Oklahoma City …, but he refuses to consider the game special.

“To be honest, I don’t even know,” he said. “It will be good to see some faces, some old teammates and coaches. They’re all my family. I look forward to every single game I play. It’s just another game.”

Before we’re too quick to dismiss Harden’s comments as disingenuous athlete-speak, it’s worth noting the team has more important things on its mind.

The Rockets will be in Minnesota earlier in the day to support head coach Kevin McHale, whose 23-year-old daughter Sasha passed away over the weekend. They’ll attend the funeral, before heading into Oklahoma City later this afternoon.

The gravity of handling that situation, especially on a game day, will likely outweigh any lingering grudges in Harden’s mind.

Getting back to basketball, Harden honestly doesn’t have anything to be upset about. He received the max contract he believed he deserved in Houston, and is proving his worth as a starter, which is something he never would have gotten the opportunity to do in Oklahoma City.

Still, with all of that being said, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harden bring a little extra something to the contest once he does step on the court to face his former team.

PBT Extra bold prediction previews: Can Thunder win 60 games?

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Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are healthy — just how good will the Thunder be?

The bold prediction in this PBT Extra preview with Jenna Corrado is that the Thunder will win 60 games, something they have not yet done. I wouldn’t bet on them hitting that number — with a new coach, and them making sure Durant and Westbrook get rest coming off injuries, plus the fact they’re in the deep West, that number may be high.

I think they have a better chance to come out of the West than win 60 games. I think they have a good shot to come out of the West.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”