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Three Things to Know: Rockets smack down Thunder for 16th straight win

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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) Oozing confidence, Rockets comfortably roll past Thunder for 16th straight win. Going into the season, the question was who would be the second elite team in the West, Houston or Oklahoma City? Both had loaded up on stars, both were led by MVP-level talents, and both had questions to answer.

Houston has emphatically answered their questions all season and Tuesday emphatically put the rest the question of which of these teams would step up (although we already knew). The Rockets defensively controlled the Thunder — Oklahoma City didn’t have a shot at the rim until midway through the second quarter — plus they rained threes (17-of-33, 51.5 percent from deep) and went right at every mismatch (over and over). Houston took control of the game in the second quarter and ultimately coasted to a 122-112 win.

That’s 16 straight wins for the Rockets, who remain half a game up on Warriors for the best record in the West. Houston has left no doubt they are elite, and they are the one team that is a legitimate threat to a healthy Golden State squad. That starts because of their defense, which could not stop Russell Westbrook (32 points) but made him work for it, as they did everyone in blue.

Oklahoma City’s defense, which has not been the same since the loss of Andre Roberson (ruptured left patellar tendon, they are now 8-9 without him) had no answer for the Rockets.

Chris Paul had 25 points, James Harden 23 and 11 assists (but 10 turnovers, Paul George did not make his life that easy), as they exploited the Thunder defensive holes all night long, to the tune of a 120.8 offensive rating.

Paul George had 17 points on 16 shots, his offense hampered by the fact he was assigned to guard Harden most of the night and expelled a lot of energy on that end. This team’s play of late, and its potential fate in the playoffs the way they are playing right now, is going to make this an interesting July for George.

2) Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis — and with them the Trail Blazers and Pelicans — keep on rolling. Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard have been clear and away the two hottest players in the NBA of late, leading their teams on win streaks that have them looking like solid playoff teams (as much as that can be said about any team below third in the competitive West). That continued on Tuesday.

Davis suffered a blow to the ribs during the second quarter trying to box out DeAndre Jordan and had to go to the locker room for X-rays. DeMarcus Cousins told AD to get back out there — or give Boogie his Achilles — and Davis did that, and then took over: he had 31 second-half points, on his way to 41 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Pelicans to a 121-116 victory. That’s nine straight wins for New Orleans, who sits as the four seed in the West now three games clear of the nine-seed Clippers.

Lillard had  37 points — hitting 8-of- 11 from three — as the Trail Blazers cruised to their eighth straight win, 111-87 over the hapless New York Knicks. Portland is currently the three seed in the West, four games clear of the nine seed.

3) Kevin Love did the most important thing in the NBA Tuesday, opening up about mental health issues. We tend to focus on the games, the highlights, and the on-the-court action around here, but it was Kevin Love who did by far the biggest, most important thing in the NBA Tuesday:

He opened up about his battle with panic attacks in a Player’s Tribune article.

Inspired by DeMar DeRozan opening up about his battle with depression, Love talked openly about his mental health challenge.

It was November 5th, two months and three days after I turned 29. We were at home against the Hawks — 10th game of the season. A perfect storm of things was about to collide. I was stressed about issues I’d been having with my family. I wasn’t sleeping well. On the court, I think the expectations for the season, combined with our 4–5 start, were weighing on me.

I knew something was wrong almost right after tip-off….

After halftime, it all hit the fan. Coach Lue called a timeout in the third quarter. When I got to the bench, I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my breath. It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk. I remember our assistant coach yelling something about a defensive set. I nodded, but I didn’t hear much of what he said. By that point, I was freaking out. When I got up to walk out of the huddle, I knew I couldn’t reenter the game — like, literally couldn’t do it physically.

Love talks about overcoming the stigma, about not being afraid to tell people this is what he was dealing with, about figuring out with help how to better cope with panic attacks — that’s what happened when he left the blowout loss to the Thunder that became so controversial — and doing that in the macho world of sports is important. There are a lot of people dealing with panic attacks — or depression, or a host of other mental illnesses — that don’t seek help because there is still a stigma attached to them. But that is changing. Love found support from all over the league.

Love’s move helps change that stigma and can help other people step forward. From the outside it would be easy to say “look at him with his NBA championship ring, his All-Star appearances, his nine-figure salary plus endorsements, his supermodel girlfriend, he has no problems” when in reality he is dealing with many of the same issues and pressure all of us are. That a star of Love’s stature steps forward is a step in the right direction for society.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win


The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

AP Photo/Darren Abate
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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.