James Harden has 38 in Rockets’ 130-114 win over the Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — James Harden easily exposed Portland’s struggles on defense.

Harden had 38 points and 10 assists for his seventh consecutive double-double, and the Houston Rockets beat the Trail Blazers 130-114 on Sunday night. It was his 14th double-double this season.

His mentality?

“Make the right play, that’s all,” he said.

“As a point guard I’m going to see a lot of defenses, so I’ve just got to figure out what they’re doing and how to attack it and just go from there.”

Eric Gordon added 26 points including six 3-pointers for the Rockets, who have made at least 10 3-pointers in 16 straight games to match the NBA record set by the Warriors and Cavaliers last season. They finished the night with 17.

Gordon’s 3-pointer gave the Rockets a 104-95 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Damian Lillard‘s 3-pointer and Mason Plumlee‘s reverse layup closed the gap to 104-100, but the Blazers couldn’t get closer and Trevor Ariza hit a 3 from the corner to put the Rockets up 111-100.

CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Lillard had 27 for the Blazers, who have lost six of their last eight games. Portland gave up 30 or more points to the Rockets in each quarter.

“They’re a difficult team to guard,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I think James does a great job of playing the game and figuring out what needs to be done.”

The Rockets attempted an NBA-record 50 3-pointers and made 21 in a 117-104 victory at Sacramento on Friday night to open a five-game road trip. Harden had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

First-year Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said he feels like the Rockets are finding a groove in his system.

“I think they’re getting more comfortable with how we’re doing things. They’re moving the ball a little better,” D’Antoni said. “We can still do better.”

The Blazers beat New Orleans 119-104 at home on Friday night after struggling on a 1-4 road trip. Portland is missing starting forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a calf injury. Ed Davis started in his place against the Rockets.

Lillard and McCollum combined for 20 points as the teams finished the first quarter knotted at 35. The Rockets went on a 9-0 run late in the second and led 65-62 at the half, paced by Harden’s 21 points.

Ryan Anderson hit a 3-pointer that made it 83-75 for the Rockets, who led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter. The Blazers pressured, coming within 94-93 late after Lillard made a pair of free throws.

Harden finished with five 3-pointers.

“Right now we’re not getting it done on the defensive end,” Lillard said. “I think that’s what it comes down to. You look at the Cleveland game, we scored 120-something points and we lose. That’s a lot of points to score and not win the game. Tonight we had 114 and we lose. Obviously we’re capable of scoring, we’re going to put points on the board, but we’ve got to find a way to come up with more stops and be more consistent.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Rookie Kyle Wiltjer has been traveling with the Rockets, although he hasn’t played. Wiltjer, who went undrafted out of Gonzaga, is a Portland native and played for Jesuit High School, helping the team to three straight Oregon state championships.

Trail Blazers: Through its first 19 games, Portland has made more than 200 3-pointers, more than any Blazers team in franchise history. The Blazers have 209 total.

SCORING IS NOT THE ISSUE

Portland has scored at least 100 points in 17 of 19 games this season.

GORDON’S GAME

Gordon was just one off his season high for points.

“I just got off to a great start,” he said. “I know when I get off to a great start everything comes easier and more comfortable We just played well as a team, we moved the ball and did everything we needed to do to win.”

 

US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

Former Lakers forward Tommy Hawkins dies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, has died. He was 80.

Hawkins died Wednesday in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications.

He graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. Hawkins was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor and his 1,318 career rebounds remain the oldest record on the books in Fighting Irish basketball history.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played for them as well as the Cincinnati Royals, and notched 6,672 career points and 4,607 rebounds.

Nuggets hire assistant coach, assistant general manager

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DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have hired veteran NBA coach Bob Weiss as an assistant on Michael Malone’s staff and announced the hiring of Calvin Booth as an assistant general manager.

Weiss has coached 31 seasons in the NBA, including the last four as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets. He’s been a head coach with four teams, compiling a 223-299 career record with the Spurs, Hawks, Clippers and SuperSonics.

Prior to coaching, Weiss played a dozen seasons in the NBA.

Also Wednesday, the Nuggets made official their hiring of Booth, 41, who spent the previous four seasons in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office, serving as director of pro personnel last season.

Booth has quietly emerged as a respected evaluator of talent. He was one of the holdovers in the front office when Tom Thibodeau was hired to take over last summer as president of basketball operations and coach.

After one season working under Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, Booth left for a promotion with the Nuggets, taking a position that will give him more responsibility and a greater say in the direction of another young team on the rise in the Western Conference.

Booth joins a Nuggets front office that includes Tim Connelly, who was promoted earlier this summer to president of basketball operations, a move that allowed Denver to hold on to promising executive Arturas Karnisovas as the team’s general manager.

Booth spent 10 years as a player in the league. Four of those seasons were with the Washington Wizards while Connelly was working there. The two also worked together in New Orleans in 2012-13, when Connelly was the assistant GM and Booth was a scout.

 

Rasheed Wallace says Zach Randolph isn’t a drug dealer: ‘The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party’

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Kings big man Zach Randolph is charged with possessing marijuana with intent to sell, a felony – not because law enforcement has evidence Randolph planned to sell the drug, but because of the amount of the drug found.

Randolph’s agent/attorney denied the allegations.

Also sticking up for Randolph? Rasheed Wallace, who played with Randolph on the Trail Blazers.

Wallace, via TMZ:

“It seems to be — no matter who you are — the bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party,” Sheed says.

“I know for a fact he ain’t no dope dealer.”

Charging someone for intending to distributing drugs without any proof he intends to distribute drugs is hazardously lazy. Randolph – who has earned about $175 million in his career and is on a two-year, $24 million contract with Sacramento – can afford more marijuana than most. That doesn’t mean he plans to sell it.

The stakes are high for Randolph. If he’s convicted of “a felony involving the distribution of marijuana,” per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he’d be banned from the NBA for at least two years.