Eric Gordon

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: James Harden out weeks, Rockets’ Chris Paul’s now

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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) James Harden out for a few weeks with a hamstring strain, Rocket now become Chris Paul’s team.
When reports started to come out of the Rockets’ locker room New Year’s Eve that James Harden was limping around with his hamstring injury, you knew it was bad. Houston announced Harden has a Grade 2 hamstring strain (which means a partial tear of the muscle), and while he will be re-evaluated in two weeks the reality is he is likely out a month or so (based on history with this injury). Hamstring injuries are not ones where it’s just matter of playing through the pain, the muscle needs to be allowed to heal completely or it is very easy to re-injure.

It’s a blow because Harden has been playing at an MVP level this season — 32.3 points per game, 9.1 assists, and shooting 39 percent from three (Harden’s injury appears to put LeBron James in the MVP lead at the halfway point of the season). The Rockets have been the second-best team in the NBA this season, and it’s because of Harden (and an improved defense).

Houston is Chris Paul’s team now — and the Rocket offense has been 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with CP3 on the court this season. However, most of Paul’s minutes are with Harden on the court too, no lineup has played more than 22 minutes with Paul but without Harden (via NBA.com). Houston’s defense, which has slipped of late (26th in the NBA over the last 10 games allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions) needs to be rejuvenated fast. The Houston offense should be fine when CP3 is on the court running the show, but Mike D’Antoni does not like to go deep into his bench and now needs to. He’s going to have to stagger Paul and Eric Gordon to keep more playmaking on the floor at all times, and guys such as Bobby Brown or just acquired Gerald Green are going to need to get run then step up.

Elite teams survive injuries, and the Rockets are an elite team, but they are going to take a step back without Harden, no doubt. Also, this Thursday’s showdown with Golden State lost a little luster.

2) DeMar DeRozan is a beast, drops Raptors-record 52 on Bucks. DeMar DeRozan still takes a lot of midrange jumpers — 61 percent of his shot attempts this season — but that number is down (from 71 percent last season) and he has replaced those with more threes and more shots at the rim.

We saw that in action Monday night when DeRozan dropped 52 on the Bucks — he was 5-of-9 from three, plus he attacked the rim more and shot 6-of-7 inside the restricted area (plus got to the line six times).

This game also showed why Toronto can be a threat to Boston and Cleveland in the playoffs because of the shifts in their offense. DeRozan had 21 points in the first quarter, so the Bucks adjusted their defense to focus on him, and that’s when he switched into a playmaker mode and set up teammates. He was moving the ball, and the Raptors kept on scoring. Combine that with an improved defense this season and this may be the best Raptors team we have seen in this recent run. They are a real threat to make the conference finals.

3) C.J. McCollum takes over the second half, leads Trail Blazers past the Bulls with 32 points. With Damian Lillard out injured (he is expected to return Tuesday in Cleveland) it has been the McCollum show for the Blazers.

Monday night he had 25 of his points after halftime, and he scored Portland’s final six points in overtime, to help his team steal a win from a hot Bulls team. He got some help, Al-Farouq Aminu had a couple of key threes late in regulation, but it was a big night from McCollum that got Portland a quality road win.

Andre Roberson’s fingerprints all over end of Thunder’s win over Rockets

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Andre Roberson banked in a free throw, and a clapping Russell Westbrook brought the Oklahoma City crowd into a fervor.

The distinctively helpful and flawed Roberson and his teammates picked each other up down the stretch of the Thunder’s 112-107 spirited Christmas win over Rockets tonight.

Roberson air-balled his next free throw, and he split on another trip to the line, both prompted by Houston intentional fouls. He also got pulled down by Harden without drawing a whistle:

But Roberson blocked James Harden‘s game-tying 3-point attempt with 27 seconds left, leaked out as Westbrook chased down the rebound and scored in transition on a pass ahead from Westbrook. Roberson then stripped Eric Gordon on the Rockets’ final possession to clinch the win.

The Thunder’s big three – Westbrook (31 points, 11 assists and three steals), Paul George (24 points) and Carmelo Anthony (20 points on 8-of-12 shooting) – did the heavy lifting. Harden (29 points and 14 assists) starred for Houston.

But Roberson helped ensure a game with nine ties and 14 lead changes ended in Oklahoma City’s favor.

Banana Boat plans: Carmelo Anthony wanted to team with Chris Paul, LeBron in Houston

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The Knicks plans to trade Carmelo Anthony dragged out deep into the summer offseason — much farther than Anthony or the Knicks wanted them to. The reason? Anthony had a no trade clause and was insistent on going to Houston or nowhere. The Rockets were interested, but only if they could send Ryan Anderson out (he was owed $60 million over three years coming into this season) and other players, and the Knicks didn’t want him. Third teams were engaged, but no deal was done.

Anthony, through it all, expected the pieces to come together — and thought he, Chris Paul, and James Harden would team up this season, then be joined by LeBron James next season, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

He’d been talking to friends about teaming up with Chris Paul and, eventually, LeBron James in Houston and how the Rockets could match up with the defending champion Golden State Warriors. He went as far as to detail individual matchups between that hypothetical Rockets team and the Warriors, surmising that he and the Rockets could take out the Warriors. For most of the offseason, Anthony was confident that the Knicks and Rockets would get a deal together.

They couldn’t.

Eventually, the Knicks new front office — Steve Mills and Scott Perry — came to Anthony with a plan to go to the Thunder, and that came together. That big three got off to a rough start this season, and while the offense is still a lot of “you take a turn, now you take a turn” they are starting to find more of a groove and winning games.

Rumors of the Rockets chasing LeBron this summer refuse to die, although to pull it off would require not only moving Anderson but Eric Gordon and a lot more of the team’s depth (especially if LeBron isn’t giving any discounts, the best way to make this work is for LeBron to do what CP3 did last year, opt into the last year of his current contract for a trade). But it’s not likely — and unless Anthony wants to opt out of $28 million to play for the minimum, he’s not joining them.

I think LeBron and Wade in Cleveland are as close to Team Banana Boat as we are going to get.

LeBron James says Dwyane Wade early leader for Sixth Man of Year

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It’s too early to get a good handle on any of the NBA’s end-of-season awards (except maybe Rookie of the Year), but the Sixth Man of the Year race is particularly muddled. Eric Gordon won it last season and has been better this season, but with Chris Paul out injured he has started 13 of his 19 games, not exactly a sixth man (yet). Andre Iguodala was a close second last season, but he’s gotten off to a slower start this campaign. The current leader this season is probably Tyreke Evans, who has stepped up for the Grizzlies (17.2 points per game), with Lou Williams right behind him (18.2 points per game for Clippers), but both of those teams are struggling due to injury and as the teams fade it will hurt their chances. There are other guys on the fringes — Kelly Olynyk has been fantastic in Miami, but 9.2 points per game likely is not enough to get it done; Rodney Hood has moved to the bench in Utah and scored a lot, he could eventually qualify — but the race is wide open.

What about Dwyane Wade in Cleveland?

LeBron James pumped up his boy for the award on Saturday, via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

LeBron believes that Dwyane Wade is the leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award right now after his early success off the bench: “He’s probably the number one candidate,” James said after Saturday’s shootaround. “Not even being biased, that’s one of my best friends. Just looking at the teams.”

Uh, no.

Wade is scoring 11.1 points per game with a below average true shooting percentage of 49.8 (well below the league average), although the Cavaliers are 8.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (however, most of that is better defense with him on the court, and that’s not due to Wade). That’s not enough right now.

In the last 10 games, when the Cavaliers have been winning and looking like an elite team, Wade is averaging 13.5 ppg and is shooting a little better, a true shooting percentage of 52 (close to the league average).

With the race wide open, Wade getting in the mix is not out of the question. But he’s got some work to do.

LeBron James in 3-point contest? ‘Not when I can spend a Saturday night at home with my family’

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LeBron James is making 42.5% of his 3-pointers – by far the best percentage of his career – while attempting a healthy 4.8 per game this season.

Could he participate in the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles?

LeBron, via Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

“Not when I can spend a Saturday night at home with my family,” he said.

Lakers fans can rejoice at LeBron again mentioning the comfort of his Los Angeles “home.” It obviously doesn’t mean he’ll sign with the Lakers next summer, but it’s a positive indicator.

As for LeBron in the 3-point contest, it’d be mostly about his name recognition. He’s a viable choice, but C.J. McCollum, Tobias Harris, Joe Ingles, Klay Thompson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Kyle Korver, Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Kevin Durant are all surpassing LeBron in 3-point attempts per game and 3-point percentage. That doesn’t even include the best 3-point shooter of all-time and a player in his prime, Stephen Curry, or the reigning contest champion, Eric Gordon.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement requires All-Stars – which LeBron will surely be – to participate in at least one Saturday-night event (not including the dunk contest) if the league so chooses. So, LeBron could be pressed into the 3-point contest against his wishes. That said, LeBron has the ear of commissioner Adam Silver. Would the NBA really make LeBron compete if he doesn’t want to?