Monday night NBA grades: Big stars (Dwight Howard, ‘Melo) have big nights

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while checking out how the Earth will die

source:  Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets. It all started because Jeremy Lin played well, pushing the tempo for the Rockets — Dwight Howard was the beneficiary of that as he got some easy buckets simply because he moved well. Howard peaked and had 12 points in the third quarter when the Rockets put the game away. Late in the game trying to find a way back in Boston went to hack-a-Howard, but the big man hit 10-of-18 from the stripe killing that attempt. This game was how the Rockets pictured things when then went out and got Howard.

source:   Alec Burks/Trey Burke, Utah Jazz. Utah won against Denver because of their backcourt — these two combined for 52 points, 13 assists, 5 Rebounds, and only 3 turnovers. They got a lot of help from the Jazz bigs in this one — Utah’s front line was making plays, which forced Denver’s guards to start sucking down into the paint to help, and that left guys good looks at a lot of shots. Credit Burks and Burke for hitting them.

source:   Denver Nuggets. This is the least consistent, hardest to pin down team in the NBA. The Nuggets lost eight in a row and seemed to be coming apart. Then they won five in a row and looked like a playoff team again in a crowded West. Then they go on the road to Utah and get their head handed to them by the lowly Jazz (who maybe aren’t that lowly, after their slow start they’re basically a .500 team). Denver played like they could win just by showing up, they are not that good.

source:   Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks. That is five wins in a row for the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony was at the heart of it with 29 points, 16 rebounds and four assists (he led the Knicks in every one of those categories). He wasn’t terribly efficient (9-of-24 shooting) but he was moving the ball — his assist to Raymond Felton for a three with :53 seconds left was huge. ESPN stats noted the Knicks are 11-2 when Anthony has four or more assists. Not a coincidence.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.