Three things we learned on Tuesday: Kyle Korver, rest of Cavs reminded Jazz defense is good

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA while trying to figure out why Prince left behind $1 million in gold bars but not one raspberry beret….

1) Kyle Korver makes Cavaliers debut, but Gordon Hayward, Jazz defense steal spotlight. Here’s the big takeaway from Kyle Korver’s first game as a Cavalier — the Jazz are very good.

Korver will be good for the Cavaliers, too, but he hadn’t even practiced with the team so visions of a lights-out debut were always a fairy tale. He was 1-of-5 in 18 minutes in his debut, going 0-of-2 from three (and 0-of-3 on uncontested looks). He will find a rhythm, and he will sync up with the Cavaliers.

Expect Korver to look a lot better Wednesday night when he and the Cavaliers face the Portland defense — the Utah defense is the best in the NBA this season and the Cavaliers found out first hand. Cleveland had just 12 points in the second quarter and shot 36.5 percent as a team for the game, struggling to score inside and get easy buckets thanks to the defensive presence of Rudy Gobert. Check out the Cavaliers’ shot chart.

Cavaliers shotchart

Cleveland took a brief third quarter lead when LeBron James just took over the game (he finished with 29 points, although Joe Ingles did a surprisingly good job on him defensively for stretches) and the team went on a 17-0 run. But the Jazz responded with a 16-0 run of their own behind Gordon Hayward, who finished with 28. Utah is a sleepy good team, one of only three teams with a top 10 offense and defense (the Cavs are not one of them, their defense is 14th) and come the playoffs they are going to make some noise. Defense and ball movement will do that. Just ask the Cavaliers.

2) DeMar DeRozan, Raptors remind Celtics who is second best team in East (at least for now). The Eastern Conference has Cleveland alone on the top tier, and so long as LeBron is not in a full body cast they will be the team that comes out of the East to the Finals. For most of the last two seasons, the second tier in the East has belonged to the Toronto Raptors alone, but of late Boston has made a push to climb up to that level.

And for a while Tuesday night, it looked like they would climb right past the Raptors, taking a 16-point third quarter lead thanks to another strong night from Isaiah Thomas (he finished with 27) and Al Horford (14 points and nine rebounds), Then DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors happened. DeRozan was brilliant and had 19 points in the third quarter to spark the comeback, Jonas Valanciunas was big (literally) and finished with 18 points and 23 rebounds, and finally Kyle Lowry added nine of his 24 in the fourth and Toronto came back to secure a 114-106 win at home.

I can’t wait for the second-round playoff matchup between these teams — that is going to be fun.

3) James Harden drops 11th triple-double of season, second straight with 40 points, Rockets win ninth straight. Who is the MVP again? Midway through the season (an we’re almost there) you can finally have an MVP conversation with some depth to it, and the race comes down to this — Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Everyone else in the conversation — Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, etc. — are all a couple of steps back.

Harden has been on a roll of late — he led the Rockets to their ninth-straight win Tuesday night dropping a 40-15-10 line on good Charlotte defense. He is now just the fourth player in NBA history to have back-to-back triple-doubles with at least 40 points (Westbrook, Michael Jordan, and Pete Maravich are the others). Harden is in attack mode, he is seeing the floor, and his MVP case is that he has the numbers and the Rockets on pace to win more than 60 games. It’s a damn good case.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.