James Harden drops triple-double, leads Rockets to win over Wolves (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) — Instead of resting players with their playoff spot already set, the Houston Rockets approached their regular-season finale as a final tuneup for the postseason.

The result was the 22nd triple-double for James Harden and a 123-118 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

Harden had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists to help Houston to its 55th victory.

All five of Houston’s regular starters started after coach Mike D’Antoni had given everyone but Harden time off in the last few games in preparation for the team’s first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City.

“I think we played well,” Harden said. “Our effort was there and we finally got everybody on the court tonight so that’s the good thing. And we’ll start Sunday.”

The MVP contender became the first player in NBA history to finish the regular season with at least 2,000 points (2,356), 900 assists (907) and 600 rebounds (659).

The Rockets had a 12-point lead after a 3-point play by Patrick Beverley with about nine minutes left. Minnesota cut into the lead with a 6-2 spurt before Houston got consecutive 3-pointers from Harden and Eric Gordon to extend the lead to 113-99 midway through the quarter.

Harden, who also had four steals and a block, found Clint Capela on an alley-oop dunk after that, before hitting another 3-pointer to make it 118-99 and spur Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.

Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 28 points and 21 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who end the season with a six-game losing streak.

Thibodeau said ending the season the way they did is a good benchmark for what they need to do in the offseason.

“It tells us exactly where we are,” he said. “We don’t get fooled into thinking that it’s something that it’s not. It tells us exactly how hard we’re going to have to work to get where we want to go.”

Towns also made NBA history by becoming the only player to have at least 2,000 points (2,061), 1,000 rebounds (1,007) and 100 3-pointers (101) in a season.

Ryan Anderson made six 3-pointers for the Rockets and finished with 20 points and Capela had 22 points and 10 rebounds.

D’Antoni is happy with where Anderson is at in his fourth game back after missing six games with an ankle injury.

“I thought he looked really fresh and lively, and he really came out of the gate quick,” D’Antoni said. “He’s playing really well.”

Four straight points by the Timberwolves cut Houston’s lead to six points with about two minutes left in the third quarter. But Houston scored the lead eight points of the quarter, led by 3-pointers from Lou Williams and Harden, to extend the lead to 95-81 entering the fourth.

A 3-pointer by Towns got the Timberwolves within a point early in the third quarter before Houston used a 10-2 run to push the lead to 76-67 with about nine minutes left in the period. Ryan Anderson made consecutive 3-pointers to start that run and Capela capped it with back-to-back baskets.

The Rockets led by 13 early, but the Timberwolves had tied it at 60 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins finished with 21 points. … Shabazz Muhammad had 22 points. … Kris Dunn had 10 points with 16 assists.

Rockets: Houston had at least 60 points at halftime for the 39th time this season. … Anderson scored 20 points or more for the 14th time. … Trevor Ariza added 15 points.

THEY SAID IT

Thibodeau on Harden: “Obviously the individual part of it is unbelievable, but it is also what he has done for the team. To lift a team the way he has is an amazing feat. He not only brought out the best out of himself but he brought the best out of the team.”

RECORD-SETTING 3s

Houston finished the season with 1,081 3s to break the NBA record for 3-pointers in a season set by Golden State last season. The Rockets made 19 3-pointers on Wednesday to improve to 36-5 this season when making at least 15.

 

Gregg Popovich on Fox News pundit attacking LeBron James: “Unbelievable”

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Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham launched an attack at Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the NBA star voiced his opinion on Donald Trump. LeBron had done so many times before, alongside other notable NBA personalities like Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr.

This instance of LeBron speaking up apparently struck Ingraham in some type of way, enough to invoke a shot at James’ intelligence and speaking mannerisms in thinly-veiled comments. Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble” which sparked the ire of many around the league. LeBron responded in kind, and most considered Ingraham’s racially-tinged tirade to be par for the course from that particular outlet.

Ingraham, who failed to do basic research on LeBron’s background, community leadership, and charitable contributions, also drew criticism from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Speaking before San Antonio’s game against the Cavaliers, Popovich told a crowd that Ingraham’s comments said more about her than about LeBron, and that he was happy the game had such a positive role model for young fans in James.

Via Twitter:

Shoutout to Popovich for continuing to be a voice from such a prominent position within sports and pop culture. Guys like him and LeBron haven’t exhausted themselves even though the discussion about what they say is undoubtedly tiring.

Jimmy Butler has surgery on right meniscus, no timetable for return

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The playoff picture in the Western Conference became much more opaque after Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury earlier in the week.

Reports out of Minnesota was that Butler had suffered a right meniscus injury, ducking what many had feared was an ACL tear. According to the team, Butler had successful surgery on his right meniscus this weekend.

As of Sunday morning they did not have a timetable for his return.

Via Twitter:

Minnesota currently stands third in the West but they will have a hard time fending off the rest of the playoff hopeful teams below them without their star player.

For his part, Butler is hoping he will be back in time for the playoffs. Early reports were that the team was thinking his recovery had a 4-to-6 week timeline, but again nothing has been set. Meniscus recovery times vary greatly depending on the issue at hand and the procedure done, neither of which we have details on at this time.

The Timberwolves have the 15th most difficult strength of schedule ahead of them according to Tankathon.com, with games against major Western Conference opponents ahead of them as well as bottom-dwellers like the Memphis Grizzlies.

Minnesota has been a good story all season long. No doubt many will bring up Tom Thibodeau’s workload once again with Butler injured, something compounded by Butler apparently requesting to rest during the 2018 All-Star Game.

Wolves fans have been waiting a long time for this. They don’t deserve this kind of punishment at this late a date, but the Basketball Gods are cruel and unceasingly unforgiving.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.