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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.

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

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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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.