The Extra Pass: Rockets foul up three and it works out…barely

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Game after game, Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale has had to sit back and watch teams use intentional fouls to their advantage.

Against the New York Knicks on Thursday night, he turned the tables.

After dealing with the “Hack-A-Howard” once again, the Rockets were lucky enough to hold on to a three-point lead with five seconds left, thanks in large part to Carmelo Anthony’s mistake of intentionally fouling Howard under two minutes.

Despite the painful error, Anthony was all set to have a chance to tie the game with five seconds left. All he had to do was hit a three.

But as soon as Anthony received the ball and his chance for redemption, James Harden shoved him. Then he swiped at him. Then he swiped at him again.

The whistle blew, and Anthony flung up a desperate heave. Splash. Good.

Visions of Larry Johnson danced in Knicks’ fans heads, but it wasn’t to be. The foul was on the ground, and now Anthony was charged with a much more difficult task of turning two free throws into three points.

Coaches typically don’t tell their players to foul in that situation. According to a study that spanned from 2005-2008, teams decided to foul just 27 times out of a possible 287 chances when up three with less than 10 seconds on the clock.

According to that same study, teams that didn’t foul won 91.9 percent of the games. Teams that did foul? 88.9 percent. While it seems like fouling gives a team a clear advantage in that situation, it also opens the door for a lot of wackiness, which we very nearly witnessed in New York.

Still, it’s important to remember that each situation is unique. Going up against a player like Anthony in that situation, who can get his shot off over anyone, is a little scarier than, say, defending anyone from the Memphis Grizzlies in a similar spot.

The time and timeout situation matters as well. The less time on the clock, the less chances that there will be possessions added on to the game. If a team is without timeouts, the inability to advance the ball on a future possession is a huge bonus.

Aside from Harden playing patty-cake instead of wrapping Anthony up, it was perfect execution. Anthony caught the ball with his back to the basket, which should trigger a foul in that situation every time, and the Knicks had no timeouts remaining and no ferocious offensive rebounders to create problems on the box out for Houston.

Anthony actually ended up making both free throws — the second on accident. On the other end, Harden hit both of his, and now the Knicks were forced to depend on a half-court buzzer-beater instead of a three-pointer from a player who made 157 of them last season.

Introducing so many variables can make coaches nervous, especially since if it backfires, the heat comes down on them instead of the players. If you don’t foul, and the opposing play nails a 3? The player gets the accolades, and the coach gets very little criticism, if any at all.

It’s a risky move for that reason alone, but it also requires a lot of trust in your players, both to foul correctly, box out, and inbound the ball or make free throws if time permits.

Some may think the Rockets got lucky, that leaving a decision to the ref, on the road, against a star player, was foolish. But at least in this instance, fortune favored the bold.

—DJ Foster

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Rockets 109, Knicks 106: Carmelo Anthony gave it his all — 45 points, 10 rebounds and he almost got a four-point play at the end that might have changed everything — but in the end he couldn’t overcome the lack interior defense that the Rockets were able to exploit. No, it wasn’t Dwight Howard who did the exploiting — he got outplayed by Andrea Bargnani. Seriously. At both ends. Rather it was James Harden (36 points), Chandler Parsons (22) and Jeremy Lin (21, nine of those in the fourth quarter) that ended up being too much for New York. The Knicks are 3-5 on the season and you know James Dolan is stewing.

Warriors 116, Thunder 115: This game was just fun. Pure entertainment. Not a lot of defense but who wants to watch that over threes and dunks? Golden State’s Klay Thompson was 6-of-9 from three on his way to 27 points, while teammate Stephen Curry was 4-of-8 on his way to 20. However it was all almost for naught as the Thunder overcame a 14-point deficit to take the late lead thanks to a dramatic Russell Westbrook deep three (he finished with 31 in his best game since his return). Then Andre Iguodala hit a leaning jumper as the buzzer sounded and the Warriors got the win.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.