Associated Press

James Harden has 40 in triple-double, Rockets top Nuggets 109-105

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DENVER (AP) — James Harden scored 40 points and finished with a triple-double as the Houston Rockets snapped the Denver Nuggets’ four-game winning streak with a 109-105 victory Saturday night.

Harden, who shook off a hard fall in the third quarter, had 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

With his team trailing 107-105, Nuggets guard Will Barton missed a 3-pointer and a layup in the final 30 seconds.

After Barton’s errant 3-point attempt, Harden missed at the other end and Nikola Jokic corralled the rebound. But then Barton missed a layup that would have tied it with about five seconds left, and Harden drew a foul. He sank both free throws to reach 40 points for the second time in two nights.

The Nuggets missed five three throws late in the game, including two by Barton.

Nene, who played the first decade of his 14-year NBA career in Denver, had 14 points and seven rebounds for the Rockets.

Gary Harris led Denver with 17 points.

Harden scored 18 points in the third quarter, including Houston’s final 16 of the period. He capped the run with a buzzer-beating 3 that gave the Rockets an 80-74 lead.

It wasn’t all rosy for Harden, however. He hit the floor hard on his right elbow after fouling Mason Plumlee in the final minute of the third quarter. Harden sat on the floor for about 30 seconds surrounded by his concerned teammates before getting up and shaking it off.

Before finding their touch late, the Rockets misfired from long range for much of the night.

They made just one of 15 shots from beyond the arc before Ryan Anderson swished one to break a 61-all tie late in the third quarter.

Nobody other than Harden scored again for the Rockets until Eric Gordon banked in a jumper a minute into the fourth.

The Nuggets built a 56-51 halftime lead behind 13 points from Juancho Hernangomez, who replaced Danilo Gallinari (left knee) in the starting lineup. Hernangomez didn’t do much after the break, though.

Also out for Denver were Wilson Chandler (groin) and Darrell Arthur (knees).

“We’re undermanned once again, but a great opportunity for all those other guys,” coach Michael Malone said before tip-off. “A great opportunity for guys like Juancho and Jamal (Murray) to go out there and compete for 48 and see where we are.”

At the end of the night, the Nuggets found themselves just 1 1/2 games in front of Portland for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers won in Atlanta, 113-97.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Were coming off a 128-112 loss at New Orleans on Friday night. Houston’s last visit to Denver also came 24 hours after the Rockets had played, but that time they built a 42-33 first-quarter lead on their way to a 128-110 win on Dec. 2. … Houston missed 10 consecutive shots from behind the arc during one stretch.

Nuggets: Play at Houston on Monday night for their second home-and-home of the season. They split their other one with Phoenix back in January. … Jokic took a seat after picking up his fourth foul with 10:17 left in the third quarter. Three of the fouls came on offense.

 

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.

Report: Suns talk to Jason Kidd, Vinny Del Negro about coaching job

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Mike Budenholzer is out (and may be thinking New York). Suns’ interim coach Jay Triano and former Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale are still in the mix.

The Suns also have reached out to Jason Kidd — who was let go by the Bucks mid-season — and former Bulls and Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

This is still early in a lengthy search process, there is a long way to go before anyone gets offered this job.

Kidd now lives in Phoenix. He’s considered a smart coach but one who falls in and out of love with players fast, pushes hard for the players he wants (and against those he doesn’t), and didn’t utilize the talent on the Bucks to its best advantage. The Suns have to ask if he is the right guy for a rebuild. He can coach, he’s going to get another chance, but do the Suns want to give it to him?

Mentioning Del Negro will lead to howls from the Suns’ fanbase, but to be fair he gets a bit of a bad rap as a coach. Del Negro won 53.3 percent of his games as a coach, and no team he coached ever finished below .500. He’s had some success developing players, starting with Derrick Rose. All that said, there are reasons Suns’ fans are right to howl: simplistic offenses, a heavy reliance on pick-and-roll sets, and remember he broke the confidence of DeAndre Jordan (Doc Rivers had to build it back up).

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season and are looking to replace him. The new coach will have a very good young scorer in Devin Booker on the roster and after that a lot of young question marks. This is a development job where the Suns need to hire a guy who can put in a system, then bring in more talent and stay out of the new coach’s way. We’ll see if the Suns can do that.

Hours after game-winning tip, restaurant told Giannis Antetokounmpo he had to wait

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was the toast of Milwaukee Sunday night: With the game on the line after a Boston comeback, he tipped in a missed Malcolm Brogdon lay-up that proved to be the game winner. (Jayson Tatum was in good position for Boston, he tried to move Antetokounmpo out of his rebounding spot, it just didn’t matter.)

Well, you would have thought Antetokounmpo was the toast of the town, but when he went to BelAir Cantina (a chainlet of Mexican restaurants in the area) he was told he had to wait. And wait. To the point he eventually left.

As you might imagine, the 6’11” Antetokounmpo walking into a restaurant a couple hours after tying up the series with the Celtics drew fast attention on social media. So did the fact he couldn’t get service.

First, good on Antetokounmpo for not pulling the “do you know who I am?” line. He was reportedly unassuming and just left after a while. No hard feelings, his girlfriend later tweeted this out.

As for BelAir Cantina, I kinda get it — I worked my way through college as a waiter and bartender. The restaurant got slammed, everyone working there was in the weeds, and things fall through the cracks. It happens.

But when the 6’11” toast of the town walks in, he cannot slip through the cracks. Cannot. Rather than social media posts about him not getting served and walking out, there would have been pictures all over of him eating the lamb barbacoa or whatever. It’s good for business. If you give the man a little special treatment after the game, nobody is going to complain (except the people who were going to complain about everything anyway… in that sense working in a restaurant was good preparation for me to use Twitter someday).

 

 

Kevin Durant apparently likes Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook (photo)

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Last summer Kevin Durant tweeted and deleted that the Thunder’s surrounding cast around him and Russell Westbrook was lacking when he played for Oklahoma City. Those tweets – another criticized Thunder coach Billy Donovan – appeared to be intended to come from a burner account, but Durant said he actually meant to send them from his own account.

Now, he apparently liked an Instagram comment with the opposite message about Westbrook. (I say apparently, because I can’t verify the authenticity of these screenshots, but they at least pass the initial smell test.)

“Like” is Instagram’s word. Maybe Durant uses the function for a different purpose – to note a comment, rather than endorse it.

Perhaps, Durant misread the conversation. The comment he liked rejected the notion that the Thunder were “subpar,” but it criticized Westbrook for them not living up to their ability. Perhaps, Durant focused on the comment sticking up for Oklahoma City overall and missed the part about Westbrook being the shortcoming. Skimming that conversation, it’s a plausible mistake.

Maybe Durant just actually hit the like button. It’s easy enough to do.

Or maybe Durant and Westbrook haven’t really gotten less hostile toward each other. Maybe Durant meant to like this from a burner account.

Those nefarious possibilities are the scintillating ones.

After getting crushed for those tweets last summer and repeatedly downplaying his feud with Westbrook, the Warriors star clearly wanted to move on from these storylines. But all those questions have suddenly reemerged. Perhaps for legitimate reasons, perhaps for benign ones. But we won’t know more about Durant’s intent until he answers to this.