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James Harden calls out Mavericks after Rockets’ 123-107 win in game with eight technicals

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DALLAS (AP) — James Harden was called for one of the eight technicals in a game that turned tense when Dallas center Andrew Bogut received a flagrant foul on a hard screen that staggered Houston’s star guard.

Despite 34 points and an easy 123-107 victory that completed a four-game season sweep of the last-place Mavericks on Tuesday night, Harden wasn’t happy.

“That other team was trippin’ tonight, just disrespectful, unprofessional, players and coaches,” Harden said. “I don’t know what was their problem, but I think that got us going. They wanted to throw a little cheap shot and just woke us up a little bit and it was over from there.”

Bogut was equally frustrated in his return after missing 11 games with a right knee injury. The call came in the second quarter, near the end of a 16-0 Houston run that broke a 37-all tie. Harden doubled over after running head-first into the 7-foot, 260-pound Bogut’s shoulder.

“If you watch the replay, yeah, he made no effort to run around my screen,” said Bogut, who had a couple of sharp verbal exchanges with Harden. “Yeah, it was a hard screen and I set hard screens. But to get a flagrant for it is kind of head-scratching.

“You admire the effort the league’s putting in in Secaucus (New Jersey) with that beautiful facility where they watch replays and watch TV and have leather chairs and all that kind of stuff. But you scratch your head at a lot of these things and it becomes very, very frustrating.”

Trevor Ariza was ejected after his second technical during the break after the third quarter, when five technicals were called. After the game, he was waiting outside the Dallas locker room for Mavericks center Salah Mejri.

Security had to make sure the pair didn’t interact after an exchange during the game that led to Ariza’s first technical. Houston was called for five and Dallas three.

“It wasn’t even basketball,” Dallas guard Wesley Matthews said. “Tempers, two in-state teams, we play each other four times, we’ve had battles in the past, so it is what it is. But we’ve got to be better than that. That was an opportunity for us to channel it into basketball and we didn’t do that.”

Harden had 24 points at halftime and finished with 11 assists without playing in the fourth quarter. The Rockets improved to 13-2 in December.

With two games left in the month, Houston can tie the franchise record of 15 wins from November 1996.

Harrison Barnes scored 21 for the last-place Mavericks, who lost their second straight following their first two-game winning streak of the season.

There were also two flagrant fouls, both against Dallas.

Most of the technicals came during dead-ball situations, with players and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle complaining to officials. Carlisle mockingly clapped at the refs, saying “good call,” after he was whistled for one.

“They tried to defend by being real physical and thinking that’s the way to do it,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t really want to get into it just because it doesn’t serve any purpose. We needed the win. We came out and we took care of business.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: G Patrick Beverley sat out with a left quadriceps contusion. It’s not expected to be a long-term injury. … Sam Dekker had a game-high 11 rebounds. … The Rockets are 7-0 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Mavericks: G Pierre Jackson was signed off the Mavericks’ NBA Development League team, and G Jonathan Gibson was waived. Jackson, a former Baylor guard who was drafted in 2013, made his NBA debut in the fourth quarter and scored seven points. … Matthews had 19 points.

BESIDES THE TECHS

There were a couple of face-to-face confrontations, the first ending in double technicals in the second quarter for Dallas’ Justin Anderson and Nene. Later in the quarter, Houston’s Ryan Anderson went nose-to-nose with Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki without a technical being called.

RARE GATHERING

The Mavericks had their projected starting five for just the fourth time, and first since a 128-90 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 25. The lineup is winless. Bogut and Nowitzki, in his third game back from his latest absence for a sore right Achilles tendon, stayed in the locker room at halftime. Bogut went scoreless with six rebounds in 10 minutes, and Nowitzki scored seven points.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.