Sunday Summer League Notes: Talking big men like Zeller, Vesley

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Our notebooks are full from another day watching hoop in Vegas are a few notes from Day 3 of the NBA Summer League:

• In case you missed it, we’ve written about a couple of big men who are looking good in Las Vegas — Jonas Valanciunas of the Raptors and Cody Zeller for the Bobcats.

• Speaking of bigs, for the second game in a row Jan Vesely showed an improved offensive game for the Wizards — a tip in-alley-oop, a couple putbacks, a pretty little step-back jumper along the baseline he has hit a couple days in a row now. But for the second straight day his defense and rebounding left a lot to be desired — the Wizards got pushed around in the paint a lot and Vesely lost his man in transition.

“To me, he got a little physicality used on him today…” Wizards Summer League coach Don Newman said after the game. “You got a guy (Knicks’ Jeremy Tyler) that’s rough in the paint, the whole game they beat us right down in the paint. If they missed it they went and got it. And that can’t happen, you got to hold your own down there and that’s what (Vesely) has to do defensively.”

• Otto Porter had his second rough shooting game in a row, 4-of-13. He’s a smart player with a great IQ but who admitted after the game that learning to play the pick-and-roll heavy NBA game is a major adjustment. After the game the Wizards coaching staff said they would like to see him drive more.

• Cleveland’s Dion Waiters put up 23 points on Memphis, but it was on 7-of-17 shooting. He was attacking, getting buckets at the rim and getting to the line for a dozen free throw attempts. That’s the good side. He was 1-4 from three and 4-11 from outside the paint in general.

• John Henson was out for the Bucks with a groin strain. Nothing serious but teams are very cautious at Summer League with injuries. As they should be.

• Tony Wroten had a nice offensive game as he tries to make a case he should get minutes behind Mike Conley in Memphis next season. His game has matured a lot from his first Summer League, but I’m not sure he plays enough defense. Looking good in Vegas and looking good running the Grizzlies offense are two different things.

• According to friend of the site D.J. Foster, Clippers draft pick Reggie Bullock looked like a player, working well off the ball. Not many minutes available on the Clippers next season, that is one deep team, but it’s also a place a young player could learn a lot.

• Dallas’ point guard Gal Mekel — who the team just signed a week ago — is just solid. He plays within himself, he never looks hurried, he makes smart decisions on when and where to move the ball, and if he gets in the lane he’s got a nice little floater. He also has shown a little drive and dish-back that is an almost behind the back pass. He is not athletic enough to be a star in this league but he should be a solid 15-20 minute a night backup. This is a good signing by Dallas.

• Golden State’s first-round pick Nemanja Nedovic sprained his ankle and sat out Saturday’s Summer League game for the team, then Sunday he was bound for Serbia to play with their national team this summer. He did practice with the team before his injury.

• Yesterday we told you Portland’s Victor Claver was injured after taking a knee to his thigh, Sunday he said he is day-to-day. He’s feeling a lot better, hot time for a return to the court set.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.