Tuesday night NBA grades: Damian Lillard is clutch

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while salivating over the idea of a “Rounders” sequel. Or wincing at the idea. (Count me with the latter group.)

source:  Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers. Two clutch game winners in a row. Tuesday night he had 23 of his 36 points in the second half and helped spark a 22-7 run that seemed to have Portland in control midway through the fourth — then Kyrie Irving helped spark changed everything. The Cavs went on a 12-2 run and tied it all up with 7.1 seconds left.

All of which set this up. Dagger.

source:  Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors. Yes, Stephen Curry was carrying the offense (30 points), but do you think it’s a coincidence that Iguodala returns to action after 26 days off and the Pelicans only shoot 37.5 percent on the night? Iguodala himself only played 17 minutes and had 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting (finishing an alley-oop from Stephen Curry), there certainly was rust. But the simple fact is Golden State’s ball movement was improved as was their focus on defense. And that all ties to Iguodala.

source:  Denver Nuggets’ pick-and-roll defense. Brian Shaw set out a strategy of switching on the pick-and-roll Tuesday, especially when Kevin Durant had the ball. Not many doubles, just switches. Durant ended up with 30 points and would just shoot over the top of whoever came at him or back poor Randy Foye down in the block. Durant is going to get his, you just need to make him work for them. Denver didn’t. Next meeting Shaw needs a new strategy.

source:  Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers). It was in a losing effort but the two guys who reportedly are not tight off the court looked good together on it — they combined for 50 points and both had key roles in the Cavaliers fourth-quarter comeback that made it a game at the end. This was what the Cleveland front office had in mind with this pairing, but with Waiters on the trade block we may not see many more nights like this.

Chris Paul thanks Clipper fans in online statement

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Chris Paul is as competitive a guy as there is in the NBA — he and James Harden are not the smoothest fit next to one another, but he would rather team with another star and go hard at the Warriors juggernaut than sit back and collect a check.

That’s why CP3 wanted to go to the Rockets as part of the trade reported Wednesday.

But before he left, he wanted to say thank you to Clippers fans.

Paul is committed to his charity causes, he’s not giving those up. He’s likely keeping his home in Los Angeles, too — L.A. is the unofficial off-season home of the NBA anyway.

Rockets make series of cash trades for expiring contracts to help line up Chris Paul deal

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While everyone was rightfully raving about the move by the Houston Rockets to trade for Chris Paul — you have to love a team not cowering from the Warriors but willing to take them on Game of Thrones style — there was one little catch. The trade, as first announced, didn’t pencil out.

Because the Rockets were over the cap, this trade needs to be a salary match. The Clippers were getting back nice young players in Sam Decker and Montrezl Harrell, plus a first-round pick, but the salaries still didn’t match up. Then a string of small cash deals for expiring contracts started rolling in.

All those deals are official — and led to one of the funniest tweets of the year.

All three of those players will head to the Clippers as part of the official trade, but then be waived by the Clippers so they don’t actually pay them.

Also of note, by staying above the salary cap line (as opposed to diving below it to absorb CP3’s contract) the Rockets will keep their mid-level exception, giving them a full $8.4 million to spend in free agency to get a role player to help fill out the roster in Houston.

The Rockets are not done big game hunting, GM Daryl Morey is reportedly going after Paul George and maybe free agents such as Paul Millsap. Carmelo Anthony reportedly would like a buyout so he can get to Houston now, but with Phil Jackson gone and $55 million owed over the next few years that seems more up in the air. Regardless, expect the Rockets to keep making small moves to set up big ones.

Reports: Rockets not done, looking at Paul George, other possible third big star

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If you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors, you can’t have enough elite talent on the roster. Which is turning the Western Conference into a Game of Thrones.

Houston has James Harden and just added Chris Paul — and GM Daryl Morey is not done, he’s targeting Paul George and other stars. That according to multiple reports from ESPN, starting with Jeff Goodman.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey not done yet, source told ESPN. Harden and CP3. Will try to add a third star to compete with Warriors.

The logistics of this would be difficult, but not impossible. The Pacers want a first-round pick, which the Rockets can include if the Pacers will wait until 2020 (the Rockets 2018 pick goes to the Clippers, 1-3 protected, which means they can’t trade 2019). With Sam Decker traded to LA, the Rockets may not have a young player of interest outside of Clint Capella (the Pacers have Myles Turner at center), but the Rockets have made a series of cash deals for non-guaranteed contracts to make this work with the Clippers and pave the way for future deals.

Also possible, the Rockets look for a way to land Paul Millsap (or maybe a lesser version, like Serge Ibaka) in free agency.

The Rockets also could target guys such as Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade, if they are bought out. Anthony is rumored to want a buyout to go to Houston now, but with Phil Jackson out and being owed $55 million over a couple years, that may not happen.

The point is the Rockets are going all in — they see the window as now and, unlike much of the rest of the West and the NBA, they are not going to wait and hope for the Warriors to wilt in a few years.

Knicks fans celebrating Phil Jackson’s departure on social media

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When the Knicks hired Phil Jackson, he was a beacon of hope for an organization that had seen dark days. Jackson was going to keep owner James Dolan out of basketball decisions (he did that) and provide a direction for the franchise (he failed to do that).

Now, three year’s later, Jackson is out as president of the Knicks.

That had Knicks fans celebrating on social media.

HALLELUJAH.

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That’s just a small sampling. So all is good with the Knicks now, right?