Love puts up a big line, but balanced Rockets keep rolling to sixth straight win

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Just before the All-Star break and a celebration of the game’s biggest names we bring you this reminder:

Basketball is still a team game.

The Timberwolves’ Kevin Love was the best scorer on the floor Monday night when Houston came to Minnesota. With no Kevin Martin (thumb) and no Nikola Pekovic it puts a lot more on Love’s plate and he was trying, knocking down midrange jumpers (5-of-8 from there), attacking and getting to the line (12-of-12 from there) and he ended up with 31 points.

However the Rockets were the better team — all five starters had at least 14 points and at least 11 shots (a sign of balance). They were moving the ball which led to hitting Patrick Beverly for open threes (4-of-8) or Dwight Howard as he was rim running. The result was an eFG% of 54.3 percent for the Rockets compared to 39 percent for the Timberwolves. Another reminder: if you shoot the ball better you usually win.

The Rockets did win, 107-89, their sixth straight victory. This was the Timberwolves fourth straight loss.

Houston had made this recent run thanks to their offense, which had averaged 114 points per 100 possessions in the previous five wins, and they had a good but not as great 107.2 points per 100 Monday night.

But they used some timely defense and bad shooting by Minnesota to hold the Timberwolves to 91.5. The problem for the Timberwolves was the missed shots, their poor floor balance off those misses, and a few turnovers led to some easy buckets for the Rockets going the other way. Minnesota could never make up that ground.

Minnesota was packing it in early on Dwight Howard but the Rockets still had 18 more points in the paint. Houston would have actually likely blown this game open in the second quarter had it not been for the fact they had turnovers on 19 percent of their possessions on the night — the sloppy turnovers killed their runs and kept Minnesota hanging around.

Until the start of the fourth, when the Rockets went on an 11-0 run to pull away for good. They got eight points from Chandler Parsons in that quarter, he finished with a team high 20, and Howard had four of his 18 points in the final frame (he finished with 15 rebounds, too). Patrick Beverly brought some defensive energy and that helped launch team fourth quarter, making a couple blocks on Alexey Shved, which became transition buckets for the Rockets.

These are two teams headed in opposite directions right now, and for a Minnesota team now 7 games out of the playoffs in the West it should lead to a little soul searching.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.