James Harden scores 30, Rockets beat Hornets 107-95 (VIDEO)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) James Harden had another big offensive night for the Houston Rockets, though the All-Star guard was more excited about his team’s effort on the other side of the ball.

Harden had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and the Rockets forced 22 turnovers that led to 27 points in a 107-95 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night.

“Our communication was really good,” Harden said. “We switched off and we contained the ball and contained their shots and closed out. And we made tough shots and took care of the basketball. If we do all of those consistently, we’ll be a very good team.”

They already are.

Patrick Beverley had 17 points and Montrezl Harrell added 15 off the bench as the Rockets improved to 39-17.

It was the 25th time Harden has scored at least 30 points along with his league-high 44th double-double. Harden shook off a 2-of-11 start from the field with a big third quarter.

“They’re not going to shut him out the whole game,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s pretty good. He’s pretty special.”

Harden was just 8 of 21 from the field and had nine turnovers but picked up his play in a decisive third quarter as the Rockets erased a nine-point deficit by outscoring the Hornets 36-22.

Charlotte had 12 turnovers in the third quarter alone.

“That’s just too much, especially against that team – a team that can score,” said Hornets guard Nic Batum, who finished with a team-high 15 points and 10 assists.

Kemba Walker had 14 points and a season-high six turnovers for the Hornets, who have lost eight of nine.

The Hornets built a 54-50 halftime lead, holding Harden to 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

But the game got away in the third quarter after a series of miscues, including two bad passes by Batum. The Rockets took command with Harden scoring 14 points.

“James took over the game,” Batum said. “I don’t know who is going to be the MVP, but he’s up there.”

Beverley stretched Houston’s lead to double digits with less than 3 minutes to play, sending fans streaming to the exits when he knocked down a jumper in the corner over Walker, then stared down the Hornets All-Star point guard and put his hand over his face as he retreated down the floor. The Hornets never challenged after that.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Clint Capela had his 30th game this season with 10-plus points, scoring 11.

Hornets: Cody Zeller returned to the starting lineup after missing seven games with a quad contusion. However, he left the game in the second half with soreness in the quad and finished with nine points and four rebounds.

SHORT BENCH

Eric Gordon (back soreness) and Nene (shoulder) did not play for the Rockets.

Houston only used eight players, but six finished in double digits in scoring.

“This is what we need in games like that. Everybody stepped up tonight and was playing well,” said Rockets forward Ryan Anderson, who had 14 points. “Everybody was aggressive (and) making shots. This is what we needed to win the game again.”

NENE’s SHOULDER

D’Antoni said Nene’s shoulder is “not bad” but he needed the rest.

BEVERLEY COMES THROUGH

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford felt Beverley was the difference in the game, hitting two big 3-pointers in the second half.

“He ran their team. He was their secondary pick-and-roll player and outside of Harden, he was the key to the game,” Clifford said.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Return home to host Phoenix on Saturday night.

Hornets: Host the Clippers on Saturday night.

It’s time for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz to turn 76ers into winners

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Markelle Fultz already has his first turnover as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

It came in an Instagram post sponsored by a watch company. “Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name). (at)Tissot.us is helping me get started with my (team name) watch,” Fultz posted, not bothering to actually fill in the blanks.

Ah, it’s a process. Or rather, The Process. And the Sixers have plenty of blanks to fill in on their roster before becoming a playoff contender.

The No. 1 overall pick in this NBA draft has become an instant fan favorite before signing his rookie contract. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington has gone on late-night TV and boasted of his love of Philly cheesesteaks, made a social media connection with franchise player Joel Embiid and dazzled on draft night with a pair of orange sneakers made of the same leather used to make NBA game balls.

If that wasn’t enough, Philly fans found an open love letter from Fultz to the city on The Players’ Tribune.

“What’s up, Philly? You good? I’m pretty good,” Fultz wrote . “Today is a good day. Today we take The Process to another level.”

Long the league laughingstock, it’s the Sixers’ turn to clap back, with Embiid and Ben Simmons poking fun on Twitter at Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar.

Moments after LaVar Ball went on TV and declared of his son, “From the words of Zeus, Jesus, everybody said he gonna be a Laker,” Simmons simply tweeted, “Crazy pills .” Embiid quickly chimed in with, “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”

But the Sixers aren’t counting on the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core to simply entertain in 140-character bursts. They expect the trio to help lead the franchise to their first playoff appearance since 2012 and first championship since 1983.

“It’s been a while,” team president Bryan Colangelo said, pointing toward championship banners hanging in the team’s New Jersey complex.

Here’s a look at how they might get to 35-50 wins over the next two seasons:

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STEP ON THE GAS

First, Simmons and Embiid need to be healthy.

Embiid, who missed his first two seasons with foot injuries, was placed on minutes restrictions in 2016-17 and was banned from playing both games of back-to-back contests. Despite the precautionary steps, Embiid played in only 31 games and needed surgery on his left knee in March.

Simmons missed his rookie season with a broken right foot.

“I think both Ben and Joel are on course for recovery,” Colangelo said Friday. “We anticipate a full, healthy roster.”

Colangelo said Embiid would have no minutes’ restrictions this season, provided he stays healthy.

“He plays with reckless abandon and some of that has got to be controlled,” Colangelo said.

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IT TAKES TWO

Coach Brett Brown had said all year that Simmons would open next season as the point guard. Simmons seemed excited at his shot to run the show until a confluence of events and a trade with Boston for the No. 1 pick that netted Fultz.

No worries, for now. Brown said Simmons and Fultz, who will play in the summer league, could work well together in the backcourt, no matter which player is the ballhandler.

“It’s a really exciting challenge to have where you try to grow those two players and let them coexist and learn more about each other,” Brown said. “The start of the season and training camp and the month of September are really going to be important for us to allow those guys to feel each other and the coaching staff to be able to truly see it on the court.”

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TOUCH OF GREY

So who shall lead the talented trio of Embiid-Fultz-Simmons, a trifecta of first- and second-year players. The Sixers have long needed a veteran both in the locker room and to help lead on the court.

“Those young guys need nurturing and they need veteran leadership. To think that you’re going to go into a season with a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old and Joel Embiid, as much as we love him and see how special he is, the reality is those three players have played a cumulative 31 NBA games,” Brown said. “And holding a locker room, growing those guys, helping them navigate NBA life and NBA games is a very powerful message when it comes from a player. And trying to identify veterans that have the ability to nurture and help those three, especially, is one of the main priorities.”

WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

Sixers fans have been very patient, and they may have stay that way.

They waited two years for Dario Saric to come from his overseas commitments. They waited two years for Embiid to recover from injuries.

They may have to wait two more years for Latvian center, and first-round pick, Anzejs Pasecniks. Pasecniks, who most recently played with Gran Canaria, a Spanish basketball club, has two more years left on his deal and may not immediately join the Sixers. Second-round picks Jonah Bolden and power forward Mathias Lessort out of France also won’t join the team next season.

But when they do, they could be the final pieces for a contender.

“Everything is designed with a championship in mind,” Colangelo said.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Mavericks will decline $25 million option for Dirk Nowitzki, sign him to new deal

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Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki had a huge $25 million team option on his contract for the upcoming 2017-18 NBA season. It now appears that the team will not exercise that option, and will instead try to re-sign their star player for an additional few years.

Given the context of the Mavericks roster, it makes sense that the team would want to allocate its resources as the NBA salary cap goes even further up the scale. Nowitzki’s salary would have remained a huge chunk of change as the Mavericks yet again try to go after free agents this summer.

While a restructuring of his contract to, say, half the amount it would have been originally would not give Dallas room for a max-level free agent, it could at least give them the capacity to go after mid-level exception type of players.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what kind of contract the Mavericks will try to sign Nowitzki to. Reports at this point say that a two-year deal for Nowitzki Is one of the options are being considered.

The question now will be what kind of deal will Mark Cuban offer his favorite player, And how low Nowitzki Is willing to go.

Via ESPN:

Nowitzki’s advanced statistics were down from prior seasons, particularly affecting his offensive efficiency thanks to dips in both field goal percentage and free-throw rate. He also only played and 54 games last year, a real concern as the Dallas roster looks to be carried by a player going into his age 39 season.

Paul George disputes the idea that he’s already moved out of his house in Indiana

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Rumors spread on social media this week as moving trucks were found outside of Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George‘s house. But were they really his?

The user posted photos of giant moving trucks outside of a house in George’s neighborhood to Snapchat. People began speculating wildly that George, the subject of trade rumors for the last few weeks, could be on the move.

Now, the Pacers start has taken to Twitter to dispute the moving trucks as his. So whose were they?

According to George, they were there to move his neighbors.

Via Twitter:

Well I guess that settles that.

The other obvious answer is that they were George’s and NBA players simply move to new locations during the summer. Half of the NBA it seems lives in the Los Angeles area come the off-season, or at least train there, so seeing moving trucks outside of his house would not have been an anomaly if you ask me.

We are past the 2017 NBA Draft and still we have no deal for George. But the NBA off-season is long, and free agency is just around the corner. I am sure that we will see a new landing spot for George in the coming months.

Then we can send somebody on over to see if there are moving trucks at his house.

Hornets’ GM slips up, introduces Dwayne Bacon as Dwyane Wade

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It’s a slip that would have made Freud proud.

Charlotte had a good draft night. In the first round, Kentucky shooter Malik Monk fell to them at 11 and they grabbed him. In the second round, they took a smart risk with Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon.

Friday came the usual team press conference with the GM introducing his players and Charlotte GM Rich Cho made a mistake, introducing Bacon as “Dwyane Wade.”

I love Bacon’s reaction.

Cho instantly realized his mistake and laughed it off, then later said: “Actually, I think they have some similarities.” Hornets fans can only hope.