James Harden leads Rockets past Nets for seventh straight win

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets overcame their inability to make defensive stops by running over the Brooklyn Nets on the offensive end.

James Harden had 36 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds to lead the Rockets to their seventh straight win, 122-118 over the Nets on Monday night.

“There’s 82 games – every game isn’t going to be perfect,” Harden said. “You’ve got to figure out ways to win, and that’s what we did tonight.”

Eric Gordon scored 24 points on 6-for-10 shooting on 3-pointers, and Ryan Anderson added 19.for the Rockets. Houston shot 17 for 43 on 3s, making at least 10 for an NBA-record 24th straight game.

Brook Lopez scored 26 points and Sean Kilpatrick added 17 for the Nets.

“They made some plays and we didn’t,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It could’ve gone either way.”

Jeremy Lin returned to action for Brooklyn for the first time since Nov. 2 when he suffered a strained left hamstring. Although Lin did not start, he played 20 minutes off the bench, scoring 10 points.

Atkinson said Lin’s presence on the court helped Brooklyn’s offense by keeping the team organized and said he was glad Lin didn’t try to do too much following a five-week absence.

“I felt a lot better than I thought I would with my wind, but I struggled with the rhythm,” Lin said. “The shots, the feel and getting back out there – you practice all these shots, but I got in there and it felt like I was shooting a football.”

Brooklyn trailed for much of the game until Joe Harris tied it at 118 with a layup with less than 40 seconds remaining.

Gordon gave Houston a two-point lead with a free throw with 11.9 seconds left, and the Rockets came up with a key steal on the ensuing inbound pass. Gordon then made two more from the line and the Rockets held on for the win.

“We were just lackadaisical,” Gordon said. “Luckily, we made some plays in the end that helped us win. We definitely need a wake-up call, but we know what we need to do. It’s good that we get a win, but there’s all the little things that we need to do to be a better team.”

The Rockets improved to 7-0 in December while knocking Brooklyn down to 1-5 in the month. The Nets haven’t won on the road since Nov. 12.

Houston outscored Brooklyn by five in each of the first two quarters to take a 53-43 lead at the half. Brooklyn cut the lead to five to start the fourth quarter.

“I think we can look at ourselves in the mirror and say individually we could have done a better job, and as a team, we could have done a better job, too,” Anderson said.

TIP-INS

Nets: C Justin Hamilton missed his second straight game with migraines. Atkinson said he will be reevaluated in a few days. … The Nets scored 42 points in the third quarter, the team’s most points in a quarter this season.

Rockets: Houston allowed 68 points in the paint, a season high for their opponents. … Harden passed Eric “Sleepy” Floyd (2,363 assists) for seventh on the franchise’s all-time assists list. … Trevor Ariza had three steals and two blocks for Houston.

COVERING LOPEZ

The Rockets struggled to contain Brook Lopez for the entire game. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni switched gears and let veteran center Nene play 24 minutes off the bench and starting center Clint Capela less than 19 minutes.

When asked if Nene was a better matchup for Lopez than Capela, D’Antoni didn’t hesitate.

“Much better, much better,” D’Antoni said. “Nene’s more experienced, more bulk. Clint will learn through this stuff, and Brook is a very good offensive player, really good offensive player. They all had their hands full with him.”

WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME

Until he came up with his only rebound of the game with less than 16.9 seconds remaining, Lopez was nearly held without a rebound for the first time since March 26, 2011, when he went without a rebound in 31 minutes against Atlanta.

“I need to be more aggressive getting to the glass,” Lopez said. “I’m not trying to make any excuses – I need to do better in that category.”

HONORING SCOLA

Nets forward Luis Scola, who played with Houston from 2007-12, was honored by the Rockets after the first quarter as part of the team’s celebration of its 50th season. A video tribute featuring interviews from Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Shane Battier was played and Scola was given an ovation when shown on the videoboard.

 

What’s Kyrie Irving’s problem with LeBron James?

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he no longer wants to play with LeBron James.

But what does that actually mean?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history.

But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In registering his preference for a trade, league sources said, Irving divulged to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that he’s become increasingly uneasy about a future that includes a roster constructed to complement LeBron James — a roster that could be devoid of James come free agency in 2018.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Irving wants to take his show away from James so he can grow his career (his on-court acclaim and notoriety, his brand, his voice) outside of James’ shadow.

Numerous people who’ve talked to Irving over the past month have said to cleveland.com that he told them he wanted to leave to grow his career, and it was the message Irving sent to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert when he asked to be traded last week.

These can all simultaneously be true. There needn’t be one singular reason Irving wants a trade.

It can also be true that former general manager David Griffin might have soothed Irving’s discontent. It can also be true that the Warriors’ dominance influenced Irving, as he might have been more willing to remain in a secondary role if it were more likely to result in a championship.

But so much of this comes back to LeBron, a massive presence around whom everything in Cleveland revolves.

Being the top player on a team means so many things – dictating on-court action, having the supporting cast built around you, influencing team staff, building a larger sponsorship presence. Irving can’t get any of that while playing with LeBron.

Irving led the Cavs in shots and usage percentage last season, but that happened only because LeBron allowed it. LeBron obviously retook control in the playoffs. There’s no question whose team this is.

There is also no indication Irving is fighting that. He’s not trying to usurp LeBron’s power, and Irving has molded his game the last few years to fit with LeBron.

But now Irving his exercising his own power so he can get even more the only place possible – somewhere away from LeBron.

Did Cavaliers dropping David Griffin lead to Kyrie Irving’s trade request?

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he had the NBA’s hardest coaching job. Following that thinking, former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin might have had the most difficult front-office job.

Not only did he face the same championship-or-bust pressure and oversee the same players (and their egos) as Lue, Griffin also reported directly to Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ sometimes-difficult owner. The Gilbert aspect is often discussed, as is working with great/brilliant/passive-aggressive LeBron James. But it has probably been undersold how high-maintenance Kyrie Irving – who requested a trade – also was for Griffin before the general manager was ousted last month.

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Over the previous few months, the Cavs had been worried about Irving’s mindset. They knew at times he’d grown unhappy with playing a secondary role on the team. Griffin had several conversations with Irving throughout the year, sources said, trying to find ways to work on the situation.

After the season, there was a desire to arrange a meeting to clear the air from all sides, sources said, but it didn’t take place. Unlike most teams, the Cavs did not have postseason exit meetings with their players.

What followed was a whirlwind, with the Cavs putting forth a series of trade packages looking to acquire either Butler or George. Some of these talks included Irving, which upset him even more when he found out about it, sources said. Previously, Griffin had worked to keep lines of communication with Irving open, but now Irving was in the dark.

Irving’s trade request had been building for years. The reported timing is vague, but Irving might have even requested a trade while Griffin was still in charge.

Either way, there’s no guarantee the Cavs keeping Griffin would have placated Irving. But it seems an experienced voice running the front office could have only helped.

Now, the task of trading Irving or mending fences falls to new general manager Koby Altman – who must solve this issue in a spotlight he never wanted.

If only Cleveland had Phil Jackson to insist on exit meetings. Maybe this would have been smoothed over a month ago.

LaVar Ball gets technical foul, pulls his AAU team off the court, forfeits game it was winning (video)

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Magic Johnson said he’s convinced LaVar Ball’s outlandishness is just marketing and that the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball is truly committed to developing younger players.

This didn’t look like someone who put youth player development over his own image.

With LaVar Ball’s AAU team leading by nine, he got a technical foul then pulled his team off the court:

He (kind of) explained why after the game (warning: profanity):

He also touched on his reasons in a video that, of course, quickly turns to promoting his brand:

This doesn’t mean Johnson is completely wrong, but the Lakers president seemingly misdiagnosed Ball’s priorities. What if Johnson is also wrong about Ball staying clear of the Lakers? That could create problems – if it hasn’t already.

I was never convinced, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver predicted, LaVar would settle down after Lonzo was drafted. I still believe Lonzo’s talent justifies managing LaVar, but that appears increasingly likely to be a burden the Lakers must actually handle rather than just brush off.

James Dolan’s MSG threatens to sue Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers

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This story requires a little background.

The Forum in Inglewood was best known for decades as being both fabulous and the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, back from the Jerry West era and through Magic’s “Showtime” teams. Then in 2001 the Lakers moved downtown to Staples Center, and after that the Forum went through some rough times. It was a number of things, including a mega church for a while, but mostly it was empty. Then several years ago the Madison Square Garden company (owned by Knicks owner James Dolan) bought the Forum, fixed it up, and started booking it again. Now the Forum is one of the hot major concert/event spaces in Los Angeles again, and it’s about to get a boost because it’s adjacent to where Stan Kroenke is building the new Los Angeles Rams stadium. Hello gentrification!

Now enter Steve Ballmer. The Clippers’ owner wants out of Staples Center and the Lakers’ shadow, so he has proposed to build his new arena in Inglewood in another space adjacent to the Rams stadium — land that MSG used to lease. As you might imagine, Dolan’s MSG is not thrilled — they are already battling with Staples to fill their space, now a state-of-the-art arena is moving in down the street.

In a proxy Knicks/Clippers battle, MSG may sue to Clippers and Inglewood in an attempt to block the new building. Here is what Dolan’s attorney in the case, Marvin Putnam, told the Daily Breeze in Los Angeles.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim that serves as a precursor to a lawsuit. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

(Inglewood Mayor James) Butts declined to comment, and there is no proof that he made those statements. But when Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states that the land would not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum’s business, according to documents.

Right now the Clippers and Inglewood are in an exclusive negotiating agreement to come to terms on the sale and plans for the property. Putnam told the paper — and the Inglewood City Council — that if the deal goes forward they will sue to block it.

It’s impossible to say how this will turn out, although as a former government reporter I will say these cases tend to be decided in favor of the side about to spend a ton of money on a new building.