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Three Things We Learned Sunday: James Harden is good, but so is Rockets’ defense in win

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If you haven’t seen the best video of the year — a professor’s BBC interview crashed by his two children, and his wife’s desperate attempts to get them out of the room — go do it now. Then come back and check out our takeaways from the night around the NBA. But go watch the video first. It’s classic.

1) James Harden’s triple-double and (shhh, don’t tell anyone) Rockets good defense best Cavaliers.
This is what you expected out of Sunday when the Rockets beat the Cavaliers 117-112 (in a very entertaining regular season game): James Harden helped make his MVP case with 38 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. That’s 16 triple-doubles this season for Harden and 31 games where he scored 30 or more.

Here’s what you didn’t expect: Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets are playing good defense, and that was the other big key to this win.

The Cavaliers shot 63.4 percent in the first half, but when the Rockets cranked up the defense that fell to 41 percent in the second half. And this is not an anomaly: since Jan. 1 the Rockets are 11th in the NBA in defense (based on points allowed per possession). Even Harden is getting in on the act.

If the Rockets can carry an above average defense into the playoffs, they are a much bigger threat.

For the Cavaliers, they had 30 points from LeBron James and 28 from Kyrie Irving, but they blew a 14-point third quarter lead on their way to their fourth loss in five games. They are now just two games up on Boston (who won Sunday, keep on reading below) and Washington, and basked on ease of schedule fivethirtyeight.com has the Celtics with a 43 percent chance of getting the No. 1 seed in the West and Cleveland at 42 percent (Washington has the other 15 percent).

It still feels like Cleveland will win enough games, LeBron won’t let his team lose home court, but this team is not defending and playing like a contender of late. Maybe they can get healthy and flip the switch come the playoffs, but only a handful of teams have really been able to do that (the 2001 Lakers come to mind, also a defending champ who battled injuries).

2) Celtics get home after West Coast road swing and thrash struggling Bulls. Boston needed a confidence booster. Some team they could just crush and pick up an easy win after a tough five-game road trip out west where they went 2-3.

Enter the Chicago Bulls.

Boston played one of its best defensive games of the season and held the Bulls’ stars in check: Jimmy Butler shot 2-of-11 for five points, Dwyane Wade was 4-of-11 for eight. Chicago shot 38.7 percent as a team and started the game shooting 0-of-12.

Meanwhile Isaiah Thomas led the way with 22 points and Avery Bradley added 17 for Boston. However, it was Jaylen Brown with the shot of the game.

With the win the Celtics moved within two games of the Cavaliers for the best record in the East, and fivethirtyeight.com says it’s basically a coin flip between the teams for the No. 1 seed (the struggling Cavaliers have a much tougher schedule down the stretch.

As for Chicago, after the game Wade was throwing shade about the lack of direction for the team, which says its wants to make a playoff push but traded Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott away.

3) Sixers Dario Saric scores 29, extends streak of 19+ point games to 11… is he the Rookie of the Year? If the vote for Rookie of the Year happened today, smart money is on Joel Embiid winning it despite the fact he only played in 31 games. No player had close to Embiid’s level of impact on the game when he did play.

But the fact it’s just 31 games has voters open to alternatives. Enter Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric, who dropped a career-high 29 Sunday night. Sure, it was against the Lakers’ “defense,” but it still counts and he was the Sixer who often had the ball in his hands down the stretch.

This makes 11 straight games Saric has had at least 19 points. Does that put him in the ROY running? None other than Embiid himself crashed Saric’s postgame interview to call him the Rookie of the Year.

Check out some Saric highlights from this run.

JJ Redick has crack in left leg, will be reevaluated 10-14 days

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The Philadelphia 76ers could use JJ Redick, but it appears that the sharp-shooting guard will be out for at least 10 days due to an injury he suffered on Monday.

The team says Redick sustained the injury late in the fourth quarter during Philly’s 117-111 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Redick finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds, and one assist in 28 minutes of play, but had to be replaced with a little more than four minutes to go by T.J. McConnell.

Via Twitter:

A bone edema is a bit of fluid collection in the marrow (inner) area of the bone. The cortical part of the bone is the harder outer surface. What appears to have happened is that Redick suffered a crack in the exterior portion of his bone that also caused some inner fluid collection.

None of that sounds fun, but Redick will apparently be re-assessed in 10-14 days, so hopefully for the team it’s less serious that all this medical stuff makes it sound.

Arron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica fight, both get ejected (VIDEO)

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The Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers nearly got into a fight on Monday night after their game. The whole thing was a fiasco, and we don’t know the extent of that incident, but apparently it was just an amouse-bouche for Tuesday’s showdown between Arron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica.

During the matchup between the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves in Florida, the two wound up actually fighting during a play in the second quarter.

As both teams went to contest a rebound on a Jamal Crawford jumper, Bjelica appeared to rush directly at Afflalo as the smaller player tried to pass block.

Elbows and forearms were involved in the rebound attempt, and that’s what caused some actual swinging.

Via Twitter:

Afflalo’s big haymaker didn’t appear to make contact, and Bjelica sort of got the better of him by getting him in a headlock, ending the fight.

Both were ejected. No doubt Adam Silver and the league office will have their work cut out for them trying to parse this fight and whatever happened between Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, James Harden, Blake Griffin, and Austin Rivers.

Afflalo should get a couple of games for that big swing, and for being the main instigator. Bjelica got a good run at him for the rebound, but the first arms going up above the shoulders was all Afflalo.

It will probably also help Bjelica that once he had Afflalo in a headlock he put his other arm up, seemingly indicating he wanted to get out of the situation but didn’t want to let Afflalo go for fear of the fight continuing.

Players are heated lately, and there has been some discussion about whether new officiating styles by younger referees has led to players getting antsy with each other. We’ve heard that some of the newer refs aren’t talking with players as much, and perhaps that hasn’t let guys blow off steam throughout the course of the game and they’re taking it out on each other.

This is all very armchair psychology of me to speculate, but no doubt the conversation between the NBA, NBPA, and NBRA during the All-Star break regarding the officiating will be massively important.

Stephen Curry, Warriors lead league merchandise sales. Again.

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A few years ago, the Warriors were everybody’s darlings — they were the Brazilian soccer team of the NBA, everybody’s second-favorite squad because they play the beautiful game and did it with flair. However, sustained success in today’s world means people are going to turn on them — how dare they go and add a great player — and it’s become trendier to root against the Warriors and for the next hot thing. The Warriors didn’t change. That’s just the cycle of fame.

However, the trend has not slowed Warriors merchandise sales — they are still the top-selling team in the league, the NBA announced Tuesday. Stephen Curry is on top of the individual jersey sales. Both led the list last season, and Curry has been on top for a few years now.

Those next hot things — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid — are fast climbing the list. Those three rank behind the expected big three of Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

The NBA releases the jersey rankings based on NBAStore.com sales from last October through the end of 2017 (that’s not a perfect measure, but it’s representative). Here are the top 15 player jersey sales from NBA.com:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
9. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
12. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
13. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
14. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
15. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves

Antetokounmpo has steadily climbed the list the past couple seasons, but this is the first time Porzingis or Embiid appeared in the top 15. Same with Lonzo Ball at 11 (he’s sold more gear than Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson, which feels wrong).

As for team merchandise sales from NBA.com:

1. Golden State Warriors
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. New York Knicks
6. Milwaukee Bucks
7. Boston Celtics
8. San Antonio Spurs
9. Chicago Bulls
10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Jazz make it official: Thabo Sefolosha to have knee surgery, done for season

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This report had been out there for a few days, but on Tuesday the Utah Jazz made it official:

Swingman Thabo Sefolosha is going to have knee surgery. From the official release:

After further evaluation, Sefolosha (6-7, 220, Switzerland) has elected to undergo right knee surgery to repair an avulsion of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) which he suffered against Charlotte on Jan. 12. 

While the team would not put a timeline on this, he is done for this season.

Which is a blow to a Utah team that has battled injuries all season, most notably a couple of knee injuries to center Rudy Gobert. Sefolosha has been solid for the Jazz this season, averaging 8.2 points per game primarily off the bench, shooting 38 percent from three and playing solid defense in 21 minutes a night.

Joe Johnson will get more run, but this does not help the slim hopes of the Jazz to climb back into the playoff race.