David Stern is in, Tim Hardaway among finalists for Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

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NEW ORLEANS — Was there really any doubt David Stern was headed to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame?

Just a couple of weeks after he retired following 30 years as NBA Commissioner, it was announced Stern was picked by the Hall of Fame’s Contributor Direct Election Committee — he is in, he doesn’t have to go up for another vote.

Nor should he — Stern oversaw a massive domestic and international growth of the NBA (and with that growth in the popularity of basketball overall). He understood that the NBA should be marketing its stars more than its teams — and when stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan (among others) fall in your lap the job is easy. Yes, there are dark spots on Stern’s record, his tenure was not all rainbows and puppy dogs, but he changed and grew the game in a massive way. His inclusion is a no brainer.

While Stern is in, 10 finalists were named and still have to go through one more round of voting (don’t ask by whom, transparency and the Hall of Fame do not mix). Those finalists are:

• Tim Hardaway, the guy with maybe the best crossover the game, who was a five-time All-Star and a member of the Warriors legendary Run TMC teams.
• Mitch Richmond, another member of Run TMC and a six-time All-Star.
• Spencer Haywood, a legendary NBA big man and four-time All-Star.
• Kevin Johnson, the three time All-Star who also has helped keep the NBA in Sacramento as mayor.
• Alonzo Mourning, who was a seven-time All-Star and continues to work with the Miami Heat and the league.
• Nolan Richardson, the former college coach of the year who had a legendary “40 minutes of hell” program at Arkansas.
• Eddie Sutton, four time college coach of the year.
• Gary Williams, who coached two teams to NCAA titles.

Who of that group gets to make the Hall of Fame will be announced in April during the NCAA Final Four.

Seven other men were directly elected (like Stern) and will be part of the class of 2015 for the Hall of Fame. They are:

• Sarunas Marciulionis, who had a seven-year NBA stint as well as an impressive international career, was voted in by the International Committee.
• Guy Rodgers, who was a four-time All-Star playing for the Philadelphia Warriors then went with the team as they moved cross country, was voted in by the veteran’s committee.
• Al Attles, who played 13 seasons and had his numbers retired by the Golden State Warriors, coached them, and has worked for the organization for 51 years. Attles has been selected to receive the 2014 John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
• Bob Leonard was voted in from the American Basketball Association (ABA) committee.
• Nat Clifton was elected by the Early African American Pioneers Committee.
• Famed Phoenix sportswriter Joe Gilmartin (who covered the Suns from their inception) and broadcaster John Andariese (who was the first color commentator on NBC when it carried the NBA and has worked doing commentary on the Knicks and others) are the 2014 Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

The Class of 2014 will be enshrined during festivities in Springfield, Mass. in August.

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.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.