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.

 

Watch DeMarcus Cousins’ historic 44/24/10 night

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The last time somebody did this — scored more than 40 points, had more than 20 rebounds, and dished out more than 10 assists in a game — “Poseidon Adventure” was in the theaters and Elton John had just released “Rocket Man.” It was Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

Monday night, DeMarcus Cousins did it.

Cousins scored 44 points, had 24 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

Cousins has had a monster first half of the season and earned his first All-Star Game start this year.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.