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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.”

Here’s LeBron James scoring the 30,000th point of his career (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is officially the youngest player to ever reach 30,000 points in an NBA career.

The Cleveland Cavaliers great, who preemptively congratulated himself in a weird Instagram post earlier in the day, got points 30,000 and 30,001 at the age of 33 years and 24 days, edging Kobe Bryant by a year and 80 days.

The play came with just a second to go in the first quarter while the Cavaliers played on the road against the San Antonio Spurs.

Dribbling on the left arc against Danny Green — a formidable defender — LeBron gave a hesitation dribble before stepping just inside the 3-point line for a pull-up jumper.

Via Twitter:

LeBron still has Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Where he ends up might just depend on how long Nowitzki plays.

Top five 2018 All-Star Game snubs

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We fans love to talk about who gets snubbed. There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament and we argue about who was 69th and deserved to be there.

With the NBA All-Star game, there are always legitimate snubs — and with the Western Conference so ridiculously deep this season good players were going to get left out. Just picking my reserve choices for a podcast felt brutal.

We now know the All-Star Game starters and reserves, so who got snubbed. Here are the top five.

1) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles has been devastated by injuries this season (not to mention losing Chris Paul in the off-season) yet they are still in the playoff hunt in the West and the main reason is Lou Williams. The leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 23.3 points per game, 5,3 assists a night, and is shooting better than 40 percent from three. He had a red-hot January so far, averaging 29.2 points per game. This may be a case where Damian Lillard got the nod from the coaches for his multi-year body of work (he’s been good a long time), but Williams is having his best season ever and has a great case.

2) Chris Paul, Houston Rockets. He likely didn’t get selected because he has missed 17 games this season — but Stephen Curry missed 15 and is a captain. When CP3 has played he’s been brilliant, averaging 19.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, he’s been crucial to improving the Rockets defense this season, and when he is on the court the Rockets outscore opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are 23-5 when he plays. Houston is the second best team in the NBA, they should have more than one representative tonight.

3) Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. The coaches went with four guards for the East reserves, and that left just three frontcourt spots and four deserving players. Drummond is the odd-man out. Which sucks — he is averaging 14.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting, and he remains the best rebounder in the game today pulling down 15 a night. He has improved his defensive play as well, but what everyone notices is he hitting his free throws (62.9 percent) and that means Stan Van Gundy can play him at the end of games and not sub him out.

Drummond was more than a little frustrated he didn’t make the cut.

4) Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder. George has played well on both ends this season next to Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 20.8 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from three on one end of the floor, and defensively he is averaging 4.4 deflections per game and has 93 steals — both tops in the league. George is a four-time All-Star and it feels weird to see him left out, but he came to the ridiculously deep Western Conference and good players were not going to make it. He’s the odd man out in the frontcourt.

5) Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets. Could have got a lot of directions here – Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic can make their cases on appeal — but people have been sleeping on just how well Walker has been playing this season. Walker is averaging an efficient 21.8 points per game, dishing out 5.9 assists per night, and when he is on the court the Hornets outscore teams by 5.1 points per 100 possessions (that’s better than the Celtics or Timberwolves net ratings for the season). The problem is when he sits they fall apart, and Walker pays the price for his team struggling this season. His name has popped up in trade rumors, and he is the best guy available right now (not that he gets moved in a tight market). Walker was an All-Star last season and had a very strong case to be one again.

Lou Williams, Andre Drummond are #madonline about All-Star snubs

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Lou Williams is having a career year. He’s done everything for the ailing Los Angeles Clippers, who have turned things around and are battling for the No. 8 seed in the West.

Likewise, Andre Drummond is having a statistically important year for the Detroit Pistons as he leads the league in rebounding and in defensive box plus/minus.

Needless to say, both of them had a strong case to make the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. The only problem is that neither of them did.

That had both Williams and Drummond speaking their minds on Twitter on Tuesday, letting fans know what they thought about their snubs.

Warning: NSFW language ahead.

Via Twitter:

Who should have been left off the East and West teams in voting, respectively, to make room for Williams and Drummond? No doubt this will be some topic of discussion for years to come as both players use it as fuel for the rest of the season.

All-Star reserves announced, Kristaps Porzingis, Damian Lillard make cut

Associated Press
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Last week the All-Star Game starters were announced, and a few players felt burned by the selections.

Now the reserves have been announced, and the real snubs happen.

As a reminder, the NBA is trying to inject some life into this staid event by having LeBron James and Stephen Curry — the top vote-getters in each conference by the fans — named captains who will pick the All-Star teams. Playground style. Just one after the other, whoever they want from either conference (but not televised… boo), first from the pool of other starters selected by fans, media, and current players, then from the list of reserves selected by the coaches (those coaches had to choose two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild-cards for each conference). Curry and LeBron can pick anyone — if Lebron wants to choose James Harden, he can.

Here are who the coaches chose to round out the rosters:

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Russell Westbrook
Klay Thompson
Damian Lillard
Jimmy Butler
LaMarcus Aldridge
Draymond Green
Karl-Anthony Towns

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyle Lowry
Victor Oladipo
John Wall
Bradley Beal
Kristaps Porzingis
Al Horford
Kevin Love

The Warriors become the first team to have four All-Stars in consecutive years.

There are four first-time All-Stars in there: Towns, Beal, Oladipo, and Porzingis.

So who got snubbed? The West was so deep there was just no way to get all the deserving guys in, but the biggest snubs are the Clippers’ Lou Williams (he has carried that team), Chris Paul of the Rockets (probably due to missed time), and the Thunder’s Paul George. Out East Andre Drummond was just off the board, as were Goran Dragic and Ben Simmons.

Just as a reminder, the starters are, from the West, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins; and from the East Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid.

The All-Star Game is Feb. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.