Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: James Harden reminds Thunder he’s good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were calling 9-1-1 then asking police to bring you some cigarettes….

Lakers 113, Celtics 99: Dwight Howard played maybe his best game as a Laker and was a force on defense, Steve Nash was carving up the defense and making passes and shots, Kobe Bryant was leading — for a night at least the Lakers would have made Jerry Buss proud. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke the game down in more detail.

Rockets 122, Thunder 119: James Harden scored a career-high 46 points against his former team, and it took him just 19 shots to get there. That’s because he knocked down 14 of those attempts, including going 7-8 from three-point distance and 11-12 from the free throw line.

The Thunder actually held a 14-point lead with seven minutes remaining in this one, before the Rockets battled back on the strength of their defense. Harden and Jeremy Lin hit big three-pointers late to take this one home, capping a 29-12 Rockets run to end the game.

Kevin Durant had a rare off night offensively, but finished with a triple-double line of 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, despite his 4-13 shooting.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 125, Knicks 91: This was simply a game where the Knicks didn’t show up, and the Pacers were ready to lay the wood to a team sitting ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

New York managed just 18 first quarter points, and allowed the Pacers to shoot better than 61 percent in the opening period to take control from the very start. Indiana put up a ridiculous 74 points in the first half to lead by 30 at the break, and the game was never in doubt in the final two periods, where the Pacers built the lead as high as 39 points before it was all said and done.
—Brett Pollakoff

Nets 97, Bucks 94: Milwaukee led most of the way, then starting just before the start of the fourth quarter the Nets went on a 31-8 run and that propelled them to the win. The Bucks shot 2-of-18 during that stretch while Deron Williams was leading his team, on his way to 23 points.

It got interesting in the final 100 seconds — the Nets led by a dozen when a Larry Sanders dunk sparked a 9-0 run that brought the Bucks back. Monta Ellis was fouled taking a three with 2.4 seconds left and the Bucks down three. But he missed the first two free throws throw and the Bucks chances bounced off the rim with it. Brandon Jennings did have 31 points and 11 assists for Milwaukee, which falls below .500 now.

Heat 103, Hawks 90: It was a rough day for Josh Smith. After hearing his name in trade rumors all afternoon he got to go head-to-head with LeBron James at night. And LeBron torched him, scoring 19 points in the first half and keeping the Heat in the game while Chris Bosh played about as well as he did in the All-Star Game. At the other end Smith was 5-of-13 shooting and clanking his shots outside the pain but destroying the rim with dunks inside. Al Horford had 27 points (and looked far more All-Star worthy than Bosh).

Atlanta led by 10 entering the fourth quarter, but LeBron dished eight assists in the final 12 minutes and the Heat outscored the Hawks 40-17 in the final period to win. The Hawks finished the game with 21 turnovers and that is death against the Heat, who have won 8 in a row.

Grizzlies 88, Raptors 82: Rudy Gay returned to the Grindhouse and got a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side against the Memphis defense — Toronto shot just 25.7 percent in the first half, scoring just 32 points. But they were down just 11 because it was a brick house in Memphis. Early in the fourth quarter the Raptors went on a 17-7 run and we were tied up at 77-77 and we had a ballgame. But it wasn’t to be for the Raptors as Memphis’ Mike Conley sank the dagger with a three with less than two minutes to go to seal the win. Zach Randolph had 17 points and 17 boards because he’s really good.

Timberwolves 94, Sixers 87: This was a game the Sixers could have used Andrew Bynum, as the Timberwolves just owned the paint. Nikola Pekovic was the man for Minnesota with 27 points and 18 rebounds. Derrick Williams looked like the kind of guy you might want to trade for with 17 points. Philadelphia got the lead down to four a couple times in the final minutes, but Pekovic drew a foul once and got an offensive rebound the next to set up a Ricky Rubio three.

Pistons 105, Bobcats 99: Pistons fans got the win, but should be a little concerned about Brandon Knight, who tweaked his knee in the third quarter when Kemba Walker fell into him. He left the game of his own power, came back in, but eventually had to go to the locker room and there will be an MRI Thursday.

Charlotte was pesky in this one. Early in the fourth quarter Rodney Stuckey was attacking on the drive (he had 7 points in the fourth) and that helped he Pistons create a little space. Then Byron Mullens made consecutive threes and it was close again. Like 98-97 Pistons inside two minutes to go close.

The Piston passing was impressive much of those final two minutes. Greg Monroe found a cutting Jose Calderon who was fouled and hit is free throws. Later Monroe got the ball back on a pretty pick-and-roll with Will Bynum and Monroe scored two of his 10 fourth quarter points on the play (19 points, 7 boards for the game). Kemba Walker kept it close with some free throws (he finished with 24 points), but Calderon hit his free throws them made a steal after pressure was put on Walker and he turned it over late. He and Monroe were key at the end.

Warriors 108, Suns 98: Nothing helps stop a six game losing streak like playing Phoenix. Just ask he Warriors. Golden State had an early 7-0 run and pretty much led the entire way, although never really by that much (12 was the max). Golden State got big games from its stars — Klay Thompson had 28 points, Stephen Curry 20 points and 11 assists, and David Lee had 19 points and 11 rebounds. The Suns made runs late, led by Goran Dragic who had 20 points and 10 assists, but it was Curry who took control of the offense late and led a 10-2 Warriors run with a couple threes to seal the win.

Cavaliers 105, Hornets 100: This was a tight game throughout, until Kyrie Irving decided it was time to put it in the win column for his Cavaliers.

Irving finished with 35 points, but scored 20 of those in the fourth quarter while playing just over seven minutes. We’ve seen him do it a few times this season, and it’s getting to the point where as long as Cleveland keeps it tight heading into the final period, the team can expect some late-game heroics from Irving to make sure they come away with the victory.
—Brett Pollakoff

Mavericks 111, Magic 96: This was a close game through the second half until a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter sealed it up for Dallas. Brandan Wright scored six points in that run, It was a really balanced Dallas attack all night with six guys in double figures, but Shawn Marion and Elton Brand led the way with 17 a piece. It didn’t feel like it would be close at all after Dallas put up 42 points in the first quarter on 64 percent shooting, but they returned to earth with 17 points on 23.8 percent shooting in the second quarter. And we had a ballgame. Until the fourth. Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 21.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.