Paul George’s big night leads Pacers to 120-101 rout of Rockets

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George delivered a message Sunday night.

James Harden might have those eye-popping offensive numbers, but it’s the Indiana Pacers All-Star who remains one of the league’s most complete players.

George scored 33 points, grabbed nine rebounds and hounded the NBA’s second-leading scorer into one of his worst games this season to help the Pacers rout the Houston Rockets 120-101.

“It’s fun playing against the good matchups,” George said. “I get a rush and it’s an excitement for me. It’s what people come out to see – me versus him and us versus them.”

Those who have watched George lately probably should have expected another impressive showing.

He matched a career high by topping the 30-point mark for the fourth straight game. George made 13 of 23 shots, 3 of 7 pointers and all four of his free throw attempts. He dished out three assists, had one steal and one blocked shot, leading Indiana to its third straight win.

And on defense, George was absolutely stifling.

Just two days after Harden put up 51 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists at Philadelphia, the five-time All-Star was just 3 of 17 from the field, 2 of 10 on 3s and had 15 points, five rebounds, eight assists and eight turnovers. He played less than three minutes in the final quarter after picking up his fifth foul with 37 seconds left in the third.

Ryan Anderson led the Rockets with 27 points on the final leg of a five-game road trip.

“We just didn’t have it,” Harden said. “It was a long road trip. It was a tough game. It was just one of those games where we didn’t have it.”

Perhaps fatigue was a factor, but George also had plenty of help.

Myles Turner had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Jeff Teague finished with 17 points and 15 assists, and Glenn Robinson III added 14 points in a game that was never really in doubt.

Indiana led 33-20 after the first quarter, allowed Houston to get as close as six late in the first half and then pushed the lead to 20 in the third quarter. Houston never got closer than 12 in the second half.

“We need PG to be PG, whether that’s scoring 30 or if it’s dishing out 10 assists or whether that’s locking up another team’s best player,” Turner said. “We just need him to be him.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Have lost four of their last five in Indianapolis. … … Five of Houston’s last seven losses have come by 10 or more points. … The Rockets have attempted 2,015 3s this season. … Eric Gordon finished with 14 points in front of his hometown fans after returning from a tight lower back that had kept him out of the previous two games.

Pacers: Finished January with a 9-4 record while averaging 110.8 points. … Turner had his sixth double-double in 13 games and added four blocks – the 12th time this season he’s had at least four in a game. … The Pacers improved to 18-6 at home this season.

IMPERFECT NIGHT

Houston was incredibly imperfect Sunday. It flirted with a season-low shooting percentage until the final minutes, when the percentage jumped to 41.0. The Rockets were 11 of 39 on 3s and the 19-point margin matched their worst off the season.

TEAGUE TIME

Teague was acquired in a summer trade that included Atlanta and Utah, and the former All-Star has really cranked it up. Since Dec. 7, Teague has 12 double-doubles in 26 games, is averaging a career-best 4.3 rebounds and his assist numbers continue to increase.

“It takes time for all of us to adapt and learn how he can be productive in this system,” coach Nate McMillan said. “I think he’s starting to get a better idea of how he can help us.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Will go after their seventh straight home win over Sacramento on Tuesday at the start of a four-game home stand.

Pacers: Face former coach Frank Vogel for the third time this season when they visit Orlando on Wednesday. Indiana has won the first two games this season.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.