Solomon Hill’s 30 lead Pelicans past Rockets despite 41, triple-double from James Harden

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Solomon Hill scored a career-high 30 points and the New Orleans Pelicans overcame the absence of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in a 128-112 upset over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

Anthony Davis had 24 points and 15 rebounds for New Orleans, which has won three of four. Jrue Holiday added 19 points despite early foul trouble.

James Harden had 41 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, but that was not enough to prevent Houston’s first loss in four games. Lou Williams added 14 points and Montrezl Harrell 13.

Cousins was sidelined by left knee and rib soreness. New Orleans is now 2-0 without Cousins and 3-7 when he’s played since trading for him Feb. 19.

Pelicans rookie guard Wayne Selden scored 11 points in his third career NBA game.

Although Cousins has been productive both scoring and rebounding since his trade to New Orleans, the Pelicans’ offensive sets appeared more fluid and balanced without him.

New Orleans shot better than 53.3 percent (49 of 92) and led by 23 points early in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets briefly pulled within 11 when Harden’s 11th assist set up Patrick Beverly’s transition layup with 5:27 remaining. But after a Pelicans timeout, Hill hit a 3 to set his personal single-game high. Then E'Twaun Moore set up Davis’ fast-break dunk to quickly push New Orleans’ lead back to 16, and the Rockets never got within single digits down the stretch.

Hill had 14 of his points in the opening period, hitting four of his first five 3-point attempts. He finished 8-of-13 shooting, hitting six of nine shots from 3-point range. Point guard Tim Frazier saw extended early minutes because of Holiday committing two early fouls and responded with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the opening 24 minutes, helping New Orleans build a lead as large as 21 points in the first half.

Houston, meanwhile, shot relatively poorly early, hitting only 36.6 percent of its shots in the first half and finishing at 41.6 percent (37 of 89) for the game, including 13 of 40 from deep.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Eric Gordon had 12 points, but only six through three quarters. … Ryan Anderson missed six of nine shots and finished with eight points. … Houston had won each of the previous two meetings by 22 or more points. … Beverly and Anderson both were assessed technical fouls. Beverly disputed a foul called on him when he appeared to block Frazier’s driving shot. Anderson appeared frustrated when he went to the floor trying to guard Davis’ made layup. From his back, Anderson flipped the dead ball vigorously to official Ken Mauer, drawing his technical.

Pelicans: Coach Alvin Gentry said Cousins was day-to-day and would be re-evaluated on Saturday. Gentry added that while neither of Cousins injuries appears serious, it made sense to hold him out while he was dealing with two injuries at once. … The Pelicans went with their 24th different starting lineup this season, with Selden starting. Still, they have been much better off, injury-wise, than a season ago, when they used 42 starting lineups. … Rookie forward Cheick Diallo was recalled from the Greensboro Swarm of the NBA Development League but did not play.

 

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.