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Hayward scores 31, leads Jazz to 120-101 win over Rockets

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Gordon Hayward scored a season-high 31 points, helping the Utah Jazz beat the Houston Rockets 120-101 on Tuesday night for their season-best fourth straight win.

Utah started strong en route to a season high for scoring. Rodney Hood had 10 points during a 20-5 first-quarter run after trailing 16-9, and Houston never led again. Hood finished with 19 points.

Rudy Gobert recorded his 11th double-double of the season with 16 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. Hayward had seven assists and five rebounds.

James Harden scored 26 points but was an inefficient 8 for 23 from the field. He also had seven assists and five rebounds, while Eric Gordon scored 24 points off the bench.

Utah rolled through the first half behind some dead-eye shooting from the entire roster. The team shot 54.8 percent from the field, including nine 3-pointers, to take a 62-50 lead into the break. The Rockets were 4 for 17 from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes, accounting for the biggest difference between the teams in the half.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston is 5-2 since Patrick Beverley returned from knee surgery. … The Rockets are 2-1 during the current five-game road trip. … They made 11 3s and have hit at least 10 3-pointers in their last 17 games.

Jazz: The 62 first-half points were a season high. … Utah is 10-2 when leading at halftime. … Derrick Favors missed his seventh consecutive game with a left knee bone contusion. … The 55.4 shooting percentage was a season high.

ANOTHER INJURY

Hood left in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain and did not return. The Jazz have been plagued by injuries again this year as Hayward, George Hill, Favors, Boris Diaw and Alec Burks have all missed time due to injury.

GO, GO, GO

Mike D’Antoni wants his teams to play fast, and that’s usually a player-friendly system. The Rockets coach, however, said it’s easier said than done.

“All players say they want to run and most players don’t, actually,” he explained. “It’s sexy to say, yeah, we’re a running team. But it does take some mental energy to go out and do that every day and just get into the habit.

“I’ve done both ways. I think it’s more taxing to play halfcourt basketball and slug it out with somebody than to run around. But they fall back into old habits and old habits are just walking the ball down. That’s hard to break up sometimes.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Travels to play the Warriors on Thursday night for the first time this season in a meeting of former Thunder stars James Harden and Kevin Durant.

Jazz: Host the Heat on Thursday night. The Jazz won their previous meeting by 11 nearly three weeks ago.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.