James Harden has 25 to lead Rockets over Magic 128-104

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HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Rockets weren’t thrilled that they let a huge lead dwindle to less than 10 points in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night.

They were, however, happy with how they responded once that happened.

James Harden had 25 points and 13 assists as the Rockets built a big lead early and held off a late rally to get a 128-104 win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.

The Rockets had led by as many as 23 before the Magic begin chipping away at the lead. Serge Ibaka made a turnaround jump shot midway through the fourth quarter to cut Houston’s lead to nine points. Harden grabbed a bad pass from Evan Fournier not long after that and dished to Eric Gordon, who finished with a 3-pointer. Trevor Ariza added a 3-pointer for Houston to extend the lead to 112-97 with about four minutes remaining to put the game away.

“Teams are going to make runs,” Ariza said. “It’s all about how you respond to the runs when you make them. Once they made their run we were able to come back and get stops most importantly.”

Patrick Beverley made seven points after that to help extend the lead to 120-99 with less than two minutes left and send Houston’s starters to the bench.

It is Houston’s second straight win and the 10th loss in 13 games for the Magic.

“We had a couple of opportunities, we had shots, and cut the deficit,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “But then a couple of turnovers at bad times and they were able to capitalize on it.”

Harden’s scoring slowed down a bit on Tuesday after he scored 41 and 42 points in his last two games. But his 13 assists ended a streak of four straight games where he had fewer than 10, which was a season-long drought.

Ibaka had 28 points for the Magic and Evan Fournier added 21.

“We know they’re a good team and we know they can shoot the ball, but we also know we have to play better defense,” Ibaka said.

Houston led by 12 early in the third quarter when Beverley and Ariza made consecutive 3-pointers to spark an 11-4 run that extended the lead to 81-62 with about seven minutes left in the quarter.

The Magic missed five shots in that span to help Houston pad its advantage.

The Rockets had pushed the lead to 20 points not long after that when the Magic finally got something going, and used a 16-5 spurt to get within 93-84 late in the third quarter. Gordon made one of two free throws after that to leave the Rockets up 94-84 entering the fourth quarter.

Fournier made six points to help Orlando cut the lead in that span, including four straight free throws late in that time.

The Rockets led 70-54 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Magic: Nikola Vucevic had 14 points and a season-high 19 rebounds. … The Magic made just six of 25 3-pointers. … D.J. Augustin added 11 points.

Rockets: Clint Capela had 17 points to extend his streak of games with at least 10 points to a career-high eight straight games. … Nene had 13 points for his fourth double-digit game in the last five. … Beverley had seven assists, to give him at least five in six of the last seven games.

CLOSING OUT THE FIRST HALF

The Rockets were energized after getting a short break with three days between their last game and Tuesday’s contest. Now they’re focused on building on what they did against the Magic in their last three games before the All-Star break.

“These next (three) games before the All-Star break are going to be extremely important for us, especially on the defensive end, to kind of build some momentum,” Harden said. “We have to come out with that intensity, and that mind set, and we’ll be all right.”

THE DREAM

Hakeem Olajuwon was honored on Tuesday night as part of the team’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Hall of Famer, who helped the Rockets to back-to-back titles in 1994-95, is Muslim and was born in Nigeria, but has since become a naturalized U.S. citizen. He addressed new President Donald Trump’s travel ban before the game.

“I was kind of surprised,” he said. “I was thinking maybe a lot of people say things just to get elected and wouldn’t actually do it … I think in the first quarter you would make a mistake and have to adjust. I think this was a mistake that the president made.”

He hopes Trump will change course.

“You can adjust in the second half to make it work by pull(ing) everybody together,” he said. “This is an opportunity to pull everybody together instead of separating.”

UP NEXT

Magic: Host Philadelphia on Thursday.

Rockets: Travel to Charlotte Thursday.

Lakers/Suns have minor skirmish, Lonzo Ball just walks away

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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.

Harrison Barnes offers advice for Dennis Smith Jr., Julius Randle

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For a guy in just his sixth NBA season, Harrison Barnes has seen a lot.

He has seen the mountaintop, having won a ring as a role player for the Golden State Warriors. He’s also has felt the devastation of being on a team that historically blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead. He’s been a high school phenom — unfairly compared to Kobe Bryant — and a high draft pick (No. 7), he understands the pressures that come with all that. He’s played (and plays) with superstar future Hall of Famers. And he’s been the guy pushed aside by a team, despite playing well, to make room for one of those superstar players — the harsh business reality of the NBA.

Barnes is learning something new this season in Dallas — how to deal with losing. He never dealt with it before — not high school, AAU, college at North Carolina — but the Dallas Mavericks are 2-14, and while they struggled last year it was nothing like this.

“It’s been difficult,” Barnes told NBC Sports about the start of the season, “but I’ve definitely seen a lot of highs, seen a lot of lows, I’m just trying to get better and lead my team to some wins.”

With all that experience, Barnes was brought in to be a leader in Dallas, and he’s worked to do that on and off the court. Off the court, he has met with local high school players and donated gear he wears — Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves — to those programs. 

On the court this year, he’s tried to blend his game with rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs see as the future at the point guard spot.

“Playing with Dennis has been great,” Barnes said. “He’s got a lot of tools that will help him be a great guy in the league for a long time. So the transition, in terms of playing together and developing chemistry, hasn’t been hard at all. I think he’s very mature beyond his years, and that makes it easy.”

As a leader, his advice to Smith Jr. has just been to not hold back, trust his instincts.

“My advice is to always be aggressive in your decision making,” Barnes said. “Whether it’s ‘should I pass?’ or ‘should I shoot?’ should I do this or should I do that, whatever it is, be aggressive. Because right now as a team, we’re in a little bit of a rut, we just need energy. Whatever it may be, even if you’re making the wrong play or the wrong decision, do it with conviction so there’s some inertia and the rest of us can feed off it.”

With the young high school players around Dallas his advice is similar — go for what you want on and off the court, give it your all — but he adds with them they need to protect their bodies in an increasingly physical game.

“Today I was able to go to Lincoln High School, meet with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and I was able to donate some Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves to the young kid, and talk to them about protecting your body when you’re out there,” Barnes said. “The game is becoming more physical and more competitive at a younger age, and the best ability is availability.”

If there’s one guy in the NBA who can relate to Barnes’ path, it might be the Lakers’ Julius Randle.

The fourth-year big has been up and down but has gotten better every season and shown promise with the Lakers, putting up 11.4 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting this season (both career highs, although his jumper still needs work), plus grabbing 6.7 rebounds, but mostly he brings energy and physical, strong defense  in just 20 minutes a game off the bench. He has transformed his body, gotten leaner but stronger, and has done a good job filling a role for Los Angeles as a physical, defensive player in a league going small and getting skinnier

Randle is coming up on the end of his rookie contract next summer and is due a payday, he thought he was part of the franchise’s future, yet he is likely the odd man out in Los Angeles as the Lakers chase big name free agents. Randle’s name is a staple of trade talks (about moving Luol Deng and his contract).

Harrison Barnes can relate. He was swept out of Golden State to make room for that team’s successful run at Kevin Durant.

What would Barnes tell Randle?

“My advice is to focus on what is going to be the best for you,” Barnes said. “Focus on where you can grow as a player, get better, where you would thrive in. Whether or not he ends up in the same place or a different place, just make sure you’re in a situation where you can grow. That’s the most important thing because a lot of things are going to be out of his control, who decides to go where and that type of stuff, but as long as he focuses on getting better with his craft that’s the one thing he can control.”

That’s what Barnes did a couple seasons ago, and he ended up in Dallas with a big contract, a big opportunity, and a chance to be a leader. He’s trying to do that on a team transitioning out of the Dirk Nowitzki era, but it hasn’t been easy.

And it’s come with some harsh new lessons. Like dealing with losing. One Barnes and the Mavericks want to move past as quickly as they can.

Watch LeBron James score 39 to lead comeback win over Clippers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James knows about the narrative bouncing around the NBA that Cleveland can be dethroned in the East.

He’s ignoring it, and slowly changing it.

“You know I could care less what people say,” James said. “I’m so far beyond that. I don’t care what people say.”

Just to make sure everyone understood him, James asked his two sons waiting for him in Cleveland’s locker room to chime in on whether he was concerned about outside voices.

The boys had dad’s back.

James had another of those games that he only seems capable of, scoring 39 points with 14 rebounds in 46 minutes as the Cavaliers continued to improve from a shaky start with their fourth straight win, 118-113 in overtime on Friday night over the skidding Los Angeles Clippers, who dropped their seventh in a row.

Kevin Love scored 25 and drained a pair of 3-pointers in OT, when the Cavs, who didn’t take the lead until the first minute of the extra session, outscored the Clippers 13-8.

Dwyane Wade gave Cleveland a huge spark, scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. The Cavs’ win wasn’t eye-pleasing, but it was another step in the right direction for the three-time defending conference champions, who went 3-1 on a just-completed road trip.

On Thursday night, James said he watched Boston beat Golden State to improve to 14-2, a stunning start that has prompted discussion about Cleveland’s vulnerability.

James dismissed any concern about the Celtics’ early burst.

“I’ve got too much to worry about around here right now trying to get our ship going in the right direction,” he said.

The Clippers’ ship is taking on water fast. Los Angeles has lost nine of 10 since a 4-0 start.

Blake Griffin scored 23 and DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 22 rebounds for Los Angeles, which didn’t give up the lead until the first minute of overtime. The Clippers had chances to put the Cavs away in regulation, but they didn’t execute down the stretch and then had defensive breakdowns in overtime.

“They made some big 3s,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You have to give them credit. That’s why they’ve been in a lot of Finals.”

The Cavs spent all night chasing the Clippers and caught them at 105-all when Love grabbed an offensive rebound and fed James, who dropped an uncontested 3-pointer with 47 seconds left.

Griffin missed tough shots on consecutive possessions, giving Cleveland one last chance in regulation but James missed an off-balance left-hander just before the horn.

James made a free throw to open OT – he went 1 of 5 at the line – and give Cleveland its first lead. Then, after Love made his two 3s, James sealed the Cavs’ fifth win in six games with a jumper.

“Well defended,” Rivers said. “It’s LeBron James.”

 

Anthony Davis leaves game with concussion, likely to miss time

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Anthony Davis has had a couple concussions during his NBA career, one of the several ailments that have kept him off the court for stretches the past few seasons.

Now Davis has suffered his third concussion since being in the league. Davis left the Pelicans’ game against the Nuggets in the third quarter after getting a concussion when trying to guard Nikola Jokic. There is no timetable for his return, he will enter the league’s concussion protocol and need to be cleared by a league neurologist before he can return to the court. After the game New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry didn’t have any details.

The play itself looked fairly innocent — there was no intent by Jokic.

Davis spent a couple of minutes on the ground after the play, his hands over his face, before going to the locker room.

Davis is averaging 25.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season.