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Three Things to Know: Too much Kyle Kuzma, Lakers end Rockets streak

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ star rookie — Kyle Kuzma, who did you think we were talking about? — drops 38, Lakers end Rockets win streak at 14. Houston had won 14 games in a row due to the lethal combination of James Harden, Chris Paul, and a surprisingly good defense. Those three things have Houston on top of the Western Conference.

Only one of those three was there at the end against the Lakers. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate, dropping 51 points on just 27 shots, plus dishing out nine assists. The Beard was brilliant.

However, Chris Paul left the game early in the fourth with what was later called a strained left adductor, which is part of the groin muscle family (this is not related to his former knee injury and he is day-to-day now, but expect him to miss at least a game or two, those can be easy to re-injure if not fully healed). The Rockets’ defense missed Clint Capela inside (he has a bruised calf, according to the team, or a sore heel, according to beat writers). Houston came into the game with the seventh-best defense in the league, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions this season, but the “D” took the night off, allowing Los Angeles to score 117.4 per 100.

A lot of that was Kyle Kuzma. The rookie dropped a career-high 38 on Houston, leading the Lakers to the 122-116 win.

Kuzma was 7-of-10 from three, leading a Lakers team that shot 32.8 percent from three before Wednesday (dead last in NBA) to hit 42.9 percent on the night. The Lakers also got a big game from Corey Brewer, as the veteran had 21 points off the bench and made big plays in the fourth.

The Lakers are playing hard — they took the Warriors to OT the other night, they were feisty against the Cavaliers the game before that, they took the Knicks to overtime the game before that. This time they held on to the lead. Lonzo Ball‘s decision making is improving, the game is clearly slowing down for him, and his shot is improving (slowly, but improving). Brandon Ingram is becoming a more aggressive scorer. The Lakers are defending better than expected (tied with the Rockets at 103 per 100 for the season). This team is showing improvement, which is what Lakers fans should have hoped to see this season.

For the Rockets, losses happen, they just need to get CP3 back soon.

2) The Kelly Olynyk revenge game — he drops career-high 32 on Celtics, leads Heat to win.
Don’t make Kelly Olynyk angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The usually reserved big man was chirping at the Boston bench on his way to dropping 32 on the best defense in the land, hitting 6-of-8 from three, and in a close game he scored the Heat’s final eight points, holding off a late charge from the Celtics (who were down 11 with 2:40 left) to get the 90-89 win.

Marcus Smart was blunt after the game, “Kelly kicked our ass.” Still, Boston fought back and almost pulled it off, Kyrie Irving got a clean look at a leaning game-winner near the elbow and just missed it. The Celtics are now 3-3 in their last six. Jayson Taytum dislocated his pinky in this game but said he expects to play Thursday.

Miami is in a fight for one of the final playoff slots in the East (they are currently the nine seed, half a game back of New York), and this is a quality win in that chase.

3) Thunder win handily, are over .500 for the first time since Halloween. The Utah Jazz, without Rudy Gobert (again) and on Thursday without standout rookie Donovan Mitchell, look like a demoralized team. They have lost three in a row (and 7-of-8 overall) as they go through the toughest stretch of their schedule this season shorthanded.

For a Thunder team trying to find an offensive groove, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Oklahoma City cruised to a 107-79 win over the Jazz behind 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists from Russell Westbrook. OKC was sharing the ball, making the extra pass to the open man, and basically playing like Billy Donovan has wanted the team to all season. We’ll see if it lasts as the schedule gets tougher (Houston on Christmas Day, for example), but this is what the Thunder needed.

Oklahoma City is 16-15, over .500 for the first time since Halloween, and if the playoffs started today they would be the six seed, 2.5 games clear of the nine-seed Jazz. The Thunder are on pace for a 49-win season (according to Ben Falk’s stat site Cleaning The Glass), which may have been a little short of lofty preseason expectations but likely would be the four seed in the West and having home court for the first round, and that’s better than the start of the season had this team looking.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

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.