Scott Brooks lets Omer Asik steal the show from Kevin Durant and James Harden in Thunder’s Game 5 loss to Rockets

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Kevin Durant has an attitude. Kevin McHale has a sense of humor. Scott Brooks has a job (for now). James Harden has an illness.

And we have a Game 6.

The Rockets beat the increasingly vulnerable-looking Thunder, 107-100, tonight. After taking a 3-0 series lead, Oklahoma City has lost two straight, but none more embarrassingly than tonight.

During the fourth quarter, Brooks – who coaches the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference – decided his team should intentionally foul Omer Asik of the eighth-seeded Rockets. The strategy was terrible in theory, and it went terribly.

Required to rhyme whenever a team intentionally fouls a specific player off the ball, I present my Asik Critique:

Asik Critique

In theory, using Asik’s regular-season free-throw percentage as a baseline, the Rockets’ offensive rating would be 112.4 on possessions ending in a pair of Asik free throws.

For reference, the Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

It’s also reasonable to expect the Thunder’s offense to suffer, considering free throws allow Houston’s defense to set and nearly negate any chance of an Oklahoma City fastbreak

In reality, the Thunder caught a break because Harden comically launched a half-court shot mistakenly before the Thunder fouled Asik. So, that gave Oklahoma City a big lift with a zero-point Houston possession.  But Asik shot better than expected, going 8-of-12 from the line when intentionally fouled.

So, that’s eight points in seven possessions – an offensive rating of 114.3.

Reminder: The Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

With Russell Westbrook out, the Thunder are psyched out, and nothing showed it more than this feeble strategy. At the same time, the Rockets are gaining confidence.

Late in the game, a frustrated Kevin Durant picked up a technical foul, and James Harden took the free throw. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

McHale told Asik to take it, but it was too late.

Oklahoma City’s bigger problems

Assuming Brooks learns from the Asik Critique (and assuming Brooks still has a job Friday), the Thunder can’t simply stop fouling Asik and win Game 6.

Kevin Martin, who shot 1-for-10, will take a lot of blame, and he deserves it.

But, when his team needed their best defensively, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins struggled.

Westbrook is a quality defender, and he’s missed. Durant has reserved his energy for running Oklahoma City’s offense, causing his defense to suffer.

As a result, the Rockets got to the rim with ease. But Ibaka and Perkins allowed them to finish once they got there.

On the other end, Durant took on point guard duties, but his teammates didn’t convert the open looks he created. Reggie Jackson didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 of his 20 points.

Harden had help defending the rim and scoring, mostly from Asik (21 points and 11 rebounds), but Francisco Garcia (5-for-12) and Patrick Beverly (2-for-5) shot well from beyond the arc for a team that bombed 35 3-pointers.

Harden vs. Durant

Harden, despite leaving the Rockets’ shootaround earlier in the day, made his first seven 3-pointers and finished with 31 points on 16 shots and eight rebounds.

Durant was even better. He had 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists – but judging Durant by his total game misses a key element. Durant quit/wore down/tired of Brooks’ foolishness/insert your own narrative and went 0-for-5 and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. (Harden shot 1-for-5 in the period, but that will be ignored thanks to Brooks’ decision to foul Asik repeatedly.)

Foreshadowing occurred just before.

Harden, on a Rockets inbound from their own baseline with 35.9 seconds left in third quarter, walked the dog nearly to the Thunder 3-point line as Oklahoma City sagged back. Harden picked up the ball, took one dribble and nailed a 3-pointer (making him 6-for-6 on 3s in the game).

Durant answered with an isolation drive and floater for two points.

To complete the 2-for-1 Harden created, Aaron Brooks made a runner with a fraction of a second left.

Durant heaved an 81-footer that had obviously missed as the quarter ended.

Durant had to do it all for the Thunder tonight, and he couldn’t. Harden had a little help – some of it from Brooks – and that was just enough.

Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not travel with team for 25 days due to legal issue

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The Lakers’Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his new team’s first two games this season due to a suspension for a DUI case in Michigan.

But that was not all. Caldwell-Pope’s came with probation, and to get out of it early the Lakers’ forward has to go through an intensive rehab program — one that does not allow him to leave California with the team for 25 days. He did not play against the Cavaliers and that is just the first of multiple games he will miss, a story broken by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Caldwell-Pope was originally cited for operating a vehicle while intoxicated but pleaded guilty in May to the lesser charge of allowing someone to operate his vehicle while under the influence, which carried a 12-month probation.

On Thursday, Caldwell-Pope had to return to California to begin an intensive program over the next 25 days that will result in some travel restrictions and could cause him to miss additional games but will end his probation early.

The Lakers are in a home heavy part of their schedule, and by my calculations KCP would only miss one or two games (for sure against Houston Dec. 20, then maybe against Golden State Dec. 22, but that is in California). The Lakers next road game after that is Dec. 31 in Houston again.

Caldwell-Pope signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Lakers last offseason, and he has gone on to become one of the few reliable three-point shooters on the team, hitting 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, taking 6.1 shots from there a game. He’s been solid on defense and a player the Lakers’ need, although his overall efficiency is closer to average.

If the Lakers are successful with their big game hunting during free agency next summer, Caldwell-Pope will not return to the team. In a tight free agent market, he may once again not see offers near what he sees himself worth next summer. That said, his play in Los Angeles has been good. And now he will not have this legal issue hanging over his head during free agency.

LeBron James is good with televising All-Star team selections

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From the moment the NBA announced changes to the All-Star Game team selection format for this season, most NBA fans — as well as most media members I know — have wanted a live team selection show.

As a reminder, this year (as in past years) fans will vote for their favorite All-Stars, and those votes will be combined with media and player votes to name the five starters from each conference. Then the coaches will vote to select the teams.

What’s different is the top vote-getters from each conference — let’s be honest, it will be LeBron James in the East and Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in the West — will be named captains and they will then pick their teams from the pool of other selected players. No East vs. West. If LeBron gets to choose first and he picks James Harden, then Harden is on that team. Curry can go second and select Giannis Antetokounmpo or whoever he wants from the starters pool, then the captains move into the reserves pool. Old-school playground style team picking.

Who wouldn’t tune it to watch that selection show?

The NBA officially has not decided yet if the selection process will be broadcast, but it probably won’t be. The reason is some player is not going to like being picked last (or next to last) and his agent will like it less. It gets political (would Curry have to choose Durant or Draymond Green first to keep his teammates happy?).

LeBron basically said Saturday why not televise it? From Nick Friedell of ESPN, when LeBron was asked if it would bother him to go against teammates in the All-Star Game:

“I hope not,” James said after Saturday’s shootaround. “We’re all grown men. It doesn’t stop their paycheck from coming. It won’t stop you from playing time once the season starts.”

And is he good with the pick order being made public or done live.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if I’m rewarded to be a part of the All-Star Game again, that’s cool for me. It doesn’t matter. All that other stuff is extracurricular.”

That’s the right attitude, and whoever got picked last would say that publicly. But privately… who knows? Depends on the guy.

That selection show would be must-watch television. The NBA needs to broadcast this. But it won’t. Politics will win out.

Carmelo Anthony returns to face improved Knicks (but without Porzingis)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony is coming to Kristaps Porzingis‘ house.

Three months after the Knicks traded Anthony to Oklahoma City, their former All-Star is gone and quickly forgotten. Porzingis is playing nearly as well as Anthony ever did in New York and seems to enjoy unyielding support from both fans and the front office that Anthony never had.

Porzingis has something else Anthony doesn’t: a winning record.

The Knicks welcome Anthony back on Saturday, trying to extend their surprising start though perhaps without the new main man in Madison Square Garden.

Anthony said after a triple-overtime victory in Philadelphia on Friday that he expected a fun night in New York.

“I think it’ll be an appreciation. It’s not like I was there for a year or a season or two seasons. I spent a lot of time there, almost seven years there,” he said. “There was great times, there was bad times. Regardless, I always stuck with it. I always remained professional. I always came and did my job whether people liked that or not. Hopefully people recognize that.”

Unlike team management, Porzingis didn’t want his friend to leave.

But it sure looks like it was the best thing for him and the Knicks.

“Well obviously, I would love to have had him here to continue to learn from him,” Porzingis said. “But without him this year I’ve had more of an opportunity. I am featured more, which is normal.”

Porzingis is listed as questionable to play after he left the Knicks’ game in Brooklyn on Thursday in the third quarter with a sore left knee. New York held on after he left, improving to 15-13 with its third straight victory.

If Porzingis plays, count on the usual raucous ovation when he’s the final starter announced, the spot that previously belonged to Anthony.

And what of the reception for Anthony, who led the Knicks to three straight playoff appearances after arriving in 2011, led the league in scoring when they won 54 games and a division championship in 2013, and always made it clear that he loved New York and didn’t want to go?

“I don’t think he deserves to be booed, but you never know,” Knicks forward Lance Thomas said. “Regardless, he is going to bring his `A’ game and we’re going to bring ours as well.”

Former team president Phil Jackson longed to unload Anthony last season, but the Knicks weren’t sure what to expect when they finally did make a deal on the eve of training camp. He was their leading scorer and team leader, and coach Jeff Hornacek had already said Anthony would be in the starting lineup if he remained on the team.

But new president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry found a trade the next day and it’s been a good one for the Knicks. Enes Kanter is giving them 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds a game as the starting center while providing positivity that for years rarely existed in the home locker room. Doug McDermott is bringing another 8.5 points a night off the bench.

Anthony is struggling right along with the Thunder, a top-25 scorer in NBA history potentially on his way to the worst season of his career. He went into Friday’s game averaging just 17.7 points on 40 percent shooting before scoring 24 points.

And after placing him with MVP Russell Westbrook and fellow All-Star Paul George for the NBA’s latest Big Three, the Thunder were under .500 before Friday’s victory.

“I didn’t know that to be honest,” Thomas said. “But regardless, (they) will figure it out. I am not worried about them. I am worried about the Knicks.”

There’s less reason to worry than in Anthony’s final years in New York. Jackson alternated between trying to win and trying to rebuild seemingly every season, and his insistence on running the triangle offense appeared out of touch in an era when NBA teams are pushing the pace. And his stance toward Anthony last season angered teammates who appreciated the veteran’s efforts on and off the court.

Mills and Perry took aim at the culture and signaled a desire to build behind Porzingis, whose average of 25.5 points would be even higher if not for a sprained ankle that forced him to leave one game after 2 1/2 minutes. He looks happy after he was so disillusioned by the atmosphere under Jackson that he blew off his exit meeting last spring.

And while the Knicks appear on the rise, Anthony is trying to keep the Thunder from getting down.

“For the most part what I like about it, guys are trying to figure it out,” he said earlier this week. “Guys are trying to make it work. Guys are trying to be unselfish and figure this thing out and we’re sticking with it.”

 

Report: Utah’s Rudy Gobert out month with knee sprain, bone bruise

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The basketball gods have not been kind to Rudy Gobert this season.

He missed 11 games earlier in the season with a bone bruise on his knee, and now he’s going to miss another month for much the same reason — teammate Derrick Favors fell into Gobert’s knee in the opening minutes in Boston Friday night and injured the same knee. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Jazz went 7-4 without Gobert the first time he was out, but did it with a changed game. Utah’s defense fell off, as expected when the man second in Defensive Player of the Year voting the season before is out. However, Favors moved over to center and provided more offensive options that opened up the floor for the Jazz, and also rookie Donovan Michell broke out as a playmaker and scorer. Utah had a top 10 offense in the games Gobert missed earlier in the season. (Favors left the Celtics game Friday with a “left eye laceration” according to the team but is expected to try to play Saturday.)

The Jazz are 14-15 on the season, sitting in the ninth seed and in the midst of a tight playoff race for the final slots in the West.