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Three Things We Leaned Thursday: James Harden vs. Warriors, are you not entertained?

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This was as good an early season night of NBA games as we’ve seen, hopefully you stayed up late for a good one rather than watched The Crown with you wife.

1) James Harden gets triple-double, ends Warriors 12-game winning streak — ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?! The Golden State Warriors play the beautiful game — sweet shooters, guys moving off the ball, selflessly passing up good shots for great ones (except Andre Iguodala late in this game, who passed up great for good). James Harden in Mike D’Antoni’s offense with shooters around him is a video game cheat code.

Put those two together and the result was as much fun as an NBA regular season game is going to be.

Harden had 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists to lead Houston to the 132-127 double-overtime win that snapped the Warriors’ 12-game winning streak. The shooters Daryl Morey brought in last summer to put around Harden did their jobs Thursday — Ryan Anderson had 29 points, Eric Gordon 23. On the other side, Durant added 39. The two teams combined for an NBA record 88 three pointers in one game. You couldn’t take your eyes off this one.

Golden State actually played decent enough defense — they held the Rockets to 103.8 points per 100 possessions, nearly six points off their season average. But the Warriors just missed their looks — they were 12-of-44 from three as a team, with Stephen Curry going 4-of-13 and a cold Klay Thompson hitting 3-of-13 (KD was 3-of-11). As a team, the Warriors were 23-of-50 (46 percent) on uncontested shots. That’s not going to get it done (nor will it happen often). Plus, as with every big game, Draymond Green picked up a technical for kicking someone (Harden in the face this time).

This is the kind of win that boosts the Rockets’ playoff chances — they will slump at some point this season for a stretch, wins like this provide a cushion. For the Warriors, they will shrug it off and keep on winning. A Dec. 1 game is not a playoff predictor of any sort.

But it can be must watch television.

2) What problems? Clippers bounce back, blow out Cavaliers in Cleveland. The Clippers started the season 14-2 and there was a whole lot of “has this Clippers’ core finally figured it out?” questions. Then came the recent, ugly three-game losing streak on the road where the offense stumbled and the bench defense looked disjointed, which led to a lot of, “see, there are the inconsistent Clippers we expect.”

Los Angeles’ answer? Go into Cleveland and blow out the defending world champions 113-94.

The Clippers haven’t answered any tough questions until they can do this on a bigger playoff stage, but this is a more comfortable and mature Clippers team — one that knows it has the sword of free agency hanging over this roster — that looks like it may be able to do just that.

Nobody who knows the game should have thought the Clipper offense would continue to struggle — they have been a top-10 team on that end the previous five years for a reason. The Clippers moved the ball beautifully and had 33 assists on 42 made field goals. J.J. Redick was the hot hand and playmaker in the first half with 21 points. In the second Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the entire team got theirs, the Clippers opened the half on a 13-2 run, they were up 19 at that point and the game was over.

It was over because the Clipper bench played well again — they outscored the Cavs bench by 18 (Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford each had 12 points), plus played solid defense and sustained the lead they were handed.

The one other unsung standout in this game: Luc Mbah a Moute for the Clippers. All the Clippers ask of their starting small forward is hit some corner threes and defend well — Mbah a Moute was a key reason LeBron James had a 5-of-14 shooting night. He played LeBron as well as anyone is going to, and while LeBron helped out (3-of-7 on uncontested shots, according to NBA.com) the Clipper defender who harassed him deserves credit.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo is insanely good. With two great games on TNT fewer eyeballs may have found the other games Thursday night, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was beasting in Brooklyn — 23 points on 14 shots, eight assists and eight rebounds, leading the Bucks to the win. The Bucks two best lineups of the night were the starters, and Antetokounmpo with the core bench guys — he was getting into the paint and there’s no easy way to slow him down.

Lamar Odom opens up about cocaine addiction

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Lamar Odom has discussed his cocaine addiction before – how it derailed his NBA career, marriage to Kim Kardashian, his life. Never detailed like this, though.

Odom in The Players’ Tribune:

With cocaine especially, there’s a high, and then an emotional low. So it’s like a roller coaster. You go high, and then you go low. High, low, high, low. After you do it, you feel shame. You think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Then the cycle starts again.

That’s the thing people don’t understand. Anybody who’s lived a complicated, drug-infused life like I’ve lived knows the cycle — with women, cheating on my wife, shit like that. Nights when I should have been asleep. Nights when I stayed up sniffing coke. Lot of those nights. When your heart is beating fast. When you should know better. When you’re just riding that roller coaster, man.

You think I wasn’t feeling shame? You think I was blind to what I was doing?

Nah, I wasn’t blind to it. Shame … pain. It’s part of the whole cycle. My brain was broken. As the years went on, and I got into my 30s, my career was winding down, and things just got out of control.

When I was like 32, 33 … I just wanted to get high all the time. That’s it, just get high. And things got dark as hell.

One of the darkest places I’ve ever been was when I was in a motel room, getting high with this chick, and my wife (at the time) walked in. That probably was like rock bottom.

I recommend reading all of Odom’s powerful essay, in which he explains the personal struggles that contributed to his drug use.

Report: Kyrie Irving not speaking with Cavaliers

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Former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin smoothed over Kyrie Irving‘s discontentment for years.

As new general manager Koby Altman tries to project stability, it seems there’s plenty of disarray behind the scenes in the wake of Irving’s trade request.

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, via Chris Fillar of 92.3 The Fan:

Whatever are or aren’t the problems between Irving and LeBron James, this makes it far less likely they’ll reconcile. It already seemed LeBron wouldn’t be proactive in mending the relationship, and this saga has only generated more distrust.

Irving appears increasingly likely to get his wish, with Cleveland moving toward trading him. He’s just upping the odds by furthering the divide.

DeMar DeRozan: Talk of Raptors’ changes overblown

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri called for a “culture reset,” alluding to an offense less reliant on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan isolations.

DeMarre Carroll, traded from Toronto to the Nets, doubts the Raptors will change much.

Know who agrees with him? DeRozan.

DeRozan, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

“I think the media kind of blow it out of proportion like it’s going to be something dramatic, like a complete dramatic 180-degree change,” DeRozan said, who was back in Toronto helping out with the Raptors’ Basketball Academy at Humber College on Monday. “It’s not that at all. It’s just moreso locking in and understanding what it takes to win from every single position. Everyone just know from our failures, guys stepping up and being better leaders, not just me and Kyle but everybody. I think once we lock in and everyone holds themselves accountable, everything else will come around perfect. That’s all it is.”

DeRozan didn’t disagree when it was suggested more ball movement might be demanded this season, but he did say the anticipated level of change by many outside the team is completely out of whack with the reality. The offence is still going to run through himself and Kyle Lowry.

This is shaping up to be a problem. Ujiri made this grand proclamation then brought back the same core – Lowry, DeRozan and coach Dwane Casey. This was the danger, that they were too comfortable with the status quo.

We’ll see how it actually plays out. DeRozan has a strong track record of improvement, and the Raptors might be forcing him to see the game differently by playing him at point guard.

But there at least appears to be a disconnect somewhere between the front office and players.

Rumor: Cavaliers trying to dump salary in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Another stated goal is to dump off some salary and reduce the luxury tax bill.

The Cavs – who reportedly lost more than $40 million last season – are on track to become the first team in NBA history to pay the luxury-tax repeater rate. They’ve led the league in payroll, racking up big luxury-tax bills, the last two seasons. They even pulled the rare feat of carving out max cap space (used on LeBron James) then getting about the luxury-tax line in the same season three years ago, finishing second to the Nets in spending that season.

Cleveland now faces a luxury-tax bill north of $78 million – which would eclipse its 2015-16 mark ($54 million) as the second highest tax payment ever, trailing just 2013-14 Brooklyn (nearly $91 million).

Most teams would never spend as much as the Cavaliers have the previous three seasons. Most teams would never approach Cleveland’s costs this year, which include $142 million in player salaries.

But most teams don’t have LeBron.

Remember, the Heat cutting corners on spending contributed to LeBron leaving Miami. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly promised to spend unconditionally when LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Is cutting costs the message the Cavaliers want to send as LeBron enters a contract year?

If so, they have a few candidates for shedding:

  • Tristan Thompson – three years, $52,408,695 remaining
  • J.R. Smith – three years, $44,160,000 remaining (just $3.87 million of $15.68 million guaranteed final year)
  • Iman Shumpert – two years, $21,348,313 remaining
  • Channing Frye – one year, $7,420,912 remaining

All those players, roughly in order of salary, contribute to winning.

The Cavs should have little trouble unloading those contracts in an Irving trade. He’s so valuable, teams will incur a lopsided financial deal to get him. They’ll just send Cleveland less talent to compensate.

It’s the classic dilemma – money vs. on-court success. Teams evaluate this tradeoff every day.

For the Cavaliers, there’s just the additional pressure of LeBron’s looming free agency.