James Harden admits Rockets were sidetracked by overly-emotional play of Patrick Beverley

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The contest between the Rockets and the Thunder on Tuesday had far more drama than necessary for a regular season game between two of the West’s top teams.

It was the first time that Russell Westbrook had faced Houston since going down with a season-ending knee injury in last year’s playoffs, which meant a rematch against the intentionally pesky Patrick Beverley — and that led to some fireworks.

The Beverley-Westbrook matchup was insanely intense from the opening tip, and came to a head when Beverley pulled the same move that ultimately caused Westbrook’s injury, grabbing him as he headed to the sidelines to call a timeout.

Beverley’s play might have been overly-aggressive last year, but it was a deliberate attempt to get Westbrook to lose it this time around. And it worked, but just briefly; the end result was OKC and Westbrook largely getting fired up, while the Rockets seemed to come undone during a stretch of cold shooting that put them in too large a hole to be able to dig out of.

James Harden was involved in an incident with the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson and another with Steven Adams, and admitted afterward that all of the non-basketball stuff was too much of a distraction.

From Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Yet for all the chances they might have had down the stretch — most ending when Beverley plowed into Westbrook again, this time while the Thunder star was shooting a 3-pointer with 91 seconds remaining and the Rockets within five — the Rockets knew they had done too much damage in a 10-minute stretch in the first half when they missed all 12 of their shots amid all the histrionics and hysteria of the night.

“I think so,” James Harden said when asked if the Rockets were sidetracked by the chaos. “If we just stick to what we do, do it to the best of our ability no matter what else is going on, we’ll be good. Sometimes we get off and kind of get distracted a little bit. When everybody is on the same page, it’s just better.”

Beverley has embraced the role of being a professional irritant, but especially against the Thunder and Westbrook, he took it too far.

There would have been nothing wrong with standing up to Westbrook, who undoubtedly came out against Beverley with even more of a chip on his shoulder than usual. But the non-stop trash talk and the move to grab Westbrook on the sideline was too much, and only served to unite the Thunder in dismantling the Rockets.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.