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.


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.


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.”


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.


Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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