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Rockets need more than James Harden show vs. Spurs

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HOUSTON (AP) — As Houston Rockets guard James Harden barreled through the San Antonio defense on Friday night en route to 30 second-half points, what gradually became clear was the Spurs’ willingness to let Harden thrive as long as his teammates did not.

Plenty of the postgame dialogue celebrated the Spurs’ height advantage and how they parlayed it into a 103-92 victory over Houston in Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinal series. The adjustment that proved more decisive was San Antonio ceding scoring opportunities to Harden while muting the Rockets’ other perimeter threats.

Harden scored 56.6 percent of Houston’s second-half points, doing so with an impressive 75.0 effective field goal percentage. But Harden recorded two assists following the intermission and had just one teammate reach double figures in scoring after halftime. Center Clint Capela had 10 of his 12 points after the break.

Houston aims to square the series at 2-2 in Game 4 on Sunday night at Toyota Center.

After averaging a league-leading 11.2 assists during the regular season and 12 in Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio, Harden produced five assists in Game 3. Houston fell to 1-5 in the six games that Harden recorded six or fewer assists this season.

“It’s a battle I’ve been trying to figure out all year long, to find a happy medium between scoring the basketball and facilitating,” said Harden, who finished with 43 points. “I think I just go with basketball instincts. If I have a shot be aggressive and shoot it. If not, get off the ball and have someone else make a play.”

The Rockets exploited foes based on decisions Harden makes with the ball, and when he is able to score and facilitate, their offense is often overwhelming. Harden recorded 20 points and 14 assists in the series opener, needing just 13 shots to orchestrate an offense that produced a 39-point lead and a 126-99 win.

Houston finished 19-10 when Harden produced 30-plus points and 10-plus assists during the regular season. Preventing him from striking that balance, even while running the risk of Harden exploding, renders the Rockets’ offense less frightful. Excluding Harden, Houston went 0 for 8 on second-half 3-pointers.

“It’s a challenge,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’ve got great shooters, good athletes, good scheme, and just as anyone else would do we’re just trying to do our best to get out to those shooters. James does a great job making you think about what you have to do to him, how much you can help off other people. It’s enough to drive you crazy but you just do your best. That’s why people score.”

The Spurs will again be without point guard Tony Parker in Game 4 after he was lost for the season with a quadriceps injury in Game 2. Rookie Dejounte Murray will again start with Patty Mills coming in off the bench.

Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge exploded for 26 points in Game 2 after totaling just 19 over the first two games. Star small forward Kawhi Leonard had another strong game with 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

What proved crucial for San Antonio was that while Harden scored at will in the second half, so too did the Spurs. After mustering only 43 points prior to the intermission, San Antonio scored 60 in the second half with a 63.9 effective field goal percentage.

While there was no correlation between Harden finding his offensive rhythm and the Rockets’ defensive collapse, their shortcoming on that end of the court left them acknowledging one more thing that needs to change Sunday night.

“They played harder than we did in the second half. We can’t allow that, especially at home,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. “We’ve got to do a better job of matching their physicality and playing harder.”

Kristaps Porzingis on Knicks: “This is where I want to stay… this is where I want to win”

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There were multiple, connected reasons it was time for the Knicks to move on from the Phil Jackson era — a triangle of reasons, really — but this one should have been at the top of the list:

He was alienating Krisptaps Porzingis.

We don’t know yet if Porzingis can be a franchise NBA player, however, he shows the potential to do it. He could become a top five NBA player you can build a contender around. You endear yourselves to those kinds of players, not get into power struggles that lead to said player blowing off end-of-year meetings and being guided out the door.

With Jackson gone, Porzingis has more motivation to stay a Knick and be the guy that turns the franchise’s fortunes around. KP was running a youth hoops camp in his native Latvia and was taking questions from the children when one kid got in a question the New York media would have loved to ask: Are you going to abandon New York? Here is Porzingis’ answer, translated and obtained by the New York Post.

“I feel that it is the best place to win. And if you win in New York, you are king. For the last two years, I have had so many positive emotions here that this is where I want to stay and that this is where I want to win.”

The Knicks have their cornerstone big. Now they need a guy on the outside (Kyrie Irving will get mentioned, but he is not the only answer), they need to get and develop young players to go with their stars. It’s the next phase for the Knicks.

But if they can keep Porzingis happy, they can lock him up to a max rookie extension after next year and have that piece in place. Then it’s up to Steve Mills and Scott Perry to put the pieces around him.

Report: LeBron James won’t waive his no-trade clause

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They Cavaliers have had a frustratingly lousy offseason.

They ousted trusted general manager David Griffin. Since, they’ve watched Golden State load up while their roster stagnates, as stars like Paul George and Jimmy Butler have landed elsewhere. Now, Kyrie Irving is requesting a trade and reportedly blaming LeBron James for that leaking.

LeBron has practically thrown up his hands and left ownership and management to figure out everything.

But LeBron – with rumors swirling about him leaving in 2018 free agency – won’t take an earlier exit.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Cleveland essentially has two options with Irving:

1. Trade him for better, older players

2. Trade him for worse, younger players

No. 2 becomes much more palatable if the Cavs can also flip LeBron (and Kevin Love) and launch into a full rebuild. But as long as LeBron is around, it’s hard not to contend for a title.

But if they trade Irving for immediate help and LeBron leaves next summer, the Cavaliers could be left with a ghastly roster. That might be the risk they’re forced to take now.

It’s hard to believe the Cavs would trade beloved LeBron, even if he didn’t hold veto power. It would turn owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman into Cleveland villains, co-conspirators in LeBron leaving again. If Gilbert and Altman dare LeBron to leave in free agency, LeBron would have to own the decision himself.

Still, if LeBron and Irving would return incredible hauls of younger players and draft picks – I can’t even imagine what LeBron would draw in a trade – Gilbert and Altman should at least consider it. It just doesn’t seem the Cavs will have that option.

Report: Kyrie Irving believes LeBron James leaked trade request

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers, noting his desire to leave Cleveland was based on parting ways with LeBron James.

That all remained under wraps for a couple weeks.

Why did it become public now?

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

According to my sources, they believe LeBron James had everything to do with news getting out that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, because Kyrie Irving and his representation and others met with the Cavaliers a couple weeks ago, and not a word got out until recently. They believe that LeBron James got word of it and was put off by it and leaked it. I’m not going to accuse LeBron of such a thing. I don’t know that to be true at all. But I know that’s what Kyrie Irving believes.

To reemphasize, Smith is not reporting that LeBron leaked Irving’s trade request, just that Irving believes LeBron did. That alone speaks to their disconnect.

Why would LeBron leak it?

Just speculating, but maybe to ruin Irving’s chance at a smooth exit. Irving is trying to bail on LeBron, and LeBron might take that personally. Leaking the trade request would be in character for LeBron as a passive-aggressive response.

But the trade request becoming public also hinders Irving’s trade value – which hurts LeBron’s team. However, people don’t always act logically when they’re upset. And maybe the Cavs won’t be LeBron’s team long enough for it to matter.

Again, though, nobody is reporting LeBron actually leaked it. Irving’s reported accusation means enough in itself.

Cavaliers really lamenting non-trade for Paul George

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The Cavaliers were reportedly close to trading for Paul George before the Pacers sent him to the Thunder.

Just how close?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

a text message from Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard undid an agreement on a blockbuster deal for George the Cavs were just starting to celebrate, a moment that now lives in infamy within the organization.

On draft night, as the Chicago Bulls were finalizing a deal with the Wolves to move Butler, the Cavs were feverishly trying to assemble a three-team trade with the Pacers. The Denver Nuggets had a strong desire to acquire Kevin Love and became a legitimate trade partner with Indiana. The Nuggets were willing to include wing Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick in that night’s draft to get Love, and the Cavs would reroute the assets to Indy for George, sources said.

But they couldn’t complete the deal. Indiana was working on another option with the Portland Trail Blazers, sources said, as they were offering a package with three first-round picks for George. Eventually, everyone moved on and the Nuggets traded the No. 13 pick to Utah in a package for Trey Lyles.

On the afternoon of June 30, the sides thought they had a deal. On a conference call between the teams, everyone tentatively agreed. George to the Cavs, Love to the Nuggets, Harris and other pieces to the Pacers, sources said.

Plans were put in place for a call to be arranged between George and Gilbert, an important step before the trade would become final, sources said. The front office began making other plans to complement George as free agency was about to begin.

But then Pritchard, who had been on the conference call when the deal was tentatively agreed to, sent the message that his team was backing out, sources said. There was no deal.

The teams tried to save it, but shortly thereafter, news broke that George was being traded to Oklahoma City.

I’m always skeptical of reports that a trade that never happened was close. Just because one team – or two teams in a three-team trade – thought the deal was close doesn’t mean the other team was actually close.

Heck, just because one team thought the trade was agreed upon doesn’t even mean the other team actually agreed.  According to this report, Pritchard “tentatively agreed.” What does that mean? The Cavaliers and Nuggets might think that was purely a procedural delay. Pritchard might have considered it contingent on other factors. A simple misunderstanding could easily be painted as something more nefarious – one team backing out of an agreed-upon trade.

But there are a lot of details here, lending credence to the notion a deal was actually close. So, let’s break down each team’s involvement:

The Trail Blazers entered the draft with three first-rounders – Nos. 15, 20 and 26. But they lacked cap room for George, so they would have had to send salary to Indiana. With Portland’s numerous bad contracts, maybe that offer wasn’t as good for the Pacers as it appears here.

The Nuggets wound up signing a star power forward (Paul Millsap) without losing Gary Harris, so they came out ahead by not completing this deal. Given how much of free agency is decided before July 1, did Denver really not know it’d land Millsap or just prefer Love that much?

The Pacers probably missed out. I’d prefer Harris (younger, cheaper and arguably better) to Victor Oladipo, and I’d prefer the No. 13 pick to Domantas Sabonis.

And then there are the Cavs, who have been thrown into disarray since this trade fell through. Would Kyrie Irving still have requested a trade with George in Cleveland? The Cavaliers would have had a better chance of winning a title, but Irving would have been further overshadowed – a key component of  his trade request. Would LeBron have been more likely to re-sign next summer? There was so much on the line.

Whether or not Pritchard actually agreed then backed out, it’s easy to see how the Cavs are having a hard time letting this one go.